SES to Launch Satellite on Reused SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket

A Falcon 9 first stage lands after launching the SES-2 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)
A Falcon 9 first stage lands after launching the SES-2 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)

LUXEMBOURG & HAWTHORNE, Calif., August 30, 2016 (SES/SpaceX PR) — SES (Euronext Paris:SESG) (LuxX:SESG) and SpaceX announced today they have reached an agreement to launch SES-10 on a flight-proven Falcon 9 orbital rocket booster.

The satellite, which will be in a geostationary orbit and expand SES’s capabilities across Latin America, is scheduled for launch in Q4 2016. SES-10 will be the first-ever satellite to launch on a SpaceX flight-proven rocket booster.

SES-10 will be positioned at 67 degrees West, pursuant to an agreement with the Andean Community (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru), and will be used for the Simón Bolivar 2 satellite network. With a Ku-band payload of 55 36MHz transponder equivalents, of which 27 are incremental, the multi-mission spacecraft is the first SES satellite wholly dedicated to Latin America. It will replace the capacity currently provided by SES’s AMC-3 and AMC-4 satellites at that location, as well as bring additional capacity to Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The high-powered, tailored and flexible beams will provide direct-to-home broadcasting, enterprise and mobility services.

“Having been the first commercial satellite operator to launch with SpaceX back in 2013, we are excited to once again be the first customer to launch on SpaceX’s first ever mission using a flight-proven rocket. We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management,” said Martin Halliwell, Chief Technology Officer at SES. “This new agreement reached with SpaceX once again illustrates the faith we have in their technical and operational expertise. The due diligence the SpaceX team has demonstrated throughout the design and testing of the SES-10 mission launch vehicle gives us full confidence that SpaceX is capable of launching our first SES satellite dedicated to Latin America into space.”

“Re-launching a rocket that has already delivered spacecraft to orbit is an important milestone on the path to complete and rapid reusability,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX. “SES has been a strong supporter of SpaceX’s approach to reusability over the years and we’re delighted that the first launch of a flight-proven rocket will carry SES-10.”

SES-10 is being built by Airbus Defence and Space and is based on the Eurostar E3000 platform. The satellite will utilise an electric plasma propulsion system for on-orbit manoeuvres and a chemical system for initial orbit raising and some on-orbit manoeuvres.

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About SES

SES (Euronext Paris:SESG) (LuxX:SESG) is the world-leading satellite operator with a fleet of more than 50 geostationary satellites. Focusing on value-added, end-to-end solutions in four key market verticals (video, enterprise, mobility and government), SES provides satellite communications services to broadcasters, content and internet service providers, and mobile and fixed network operators, as well as business and governmental organisations worldwide. SES stands for long-lasting business relationships, high-quality service and excellence in the satellite industry. The culturally diverse regional teams of SES are located around the globe and work closely with customers to meet their specific satellite bandwidth and service requirements.

SES’s subsidiary, MX1, is one of the leading media service providers and offers a full suite of innovative digital video and media services. Through its ownership of O3b Networks, a next generation satellite network combining the reach of satellite with the speed of fibre, SES significantly enhanced existing video and data capabilities. SES is the first satellite provider in the world to deliver a differentiated and entirely scalable GEO-MEO offer with powerful technical capabilities across numerous market segments and geographies.

At SES we are shaping new ecosystems and laying the groundwork for new foundations.

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  • duheagle

    I’m quite sure you think so, but I don’t see it. There are a lot of problems with ULA’s concept. For one thing, ULA plans to use an inflatable ballute/heat shield to re-enter and a parachute to provide a slow enough fall so that the recovery vehicle has time enough to maneuver and hook it.

    The re-entry ballute and chute will be heavy and will also require considerable volume that isn’t exactly abundant at the base of a booster stage.

    To catch the engine pod, ULA has proposed using a helicopter. There are very few helicopters in the world able to handle the probable mass of a Vulcan engine pod and most of them are Russian.

    Some variant of the CH-53 is the heaviest lift-capable American-made choice. But, like all other large American helicopters, the CH-53 is a military helicopter and military equipment can be tricky to get hold of for civilian purposes.

    Another thing about large American helicopters is that they’re expensive as well. The latest model of the CH-53, the CH-53K, costs $125 million per unit. An older, lesser model in the CH-53 series might serve, and would likely be much cheaper to buy assuming one could find such a beast in good enough shape after being retired from military service. That might be a problem. There seem to be no CH-53’s available for civilian sale.

    For the sake of argument, though, assume a CH-53 is findable. Since this is an assumption, wemight as well assume it’s a spanking new CH-53K.

    One thing about rocket launches is that they are often subject to delays. That isn’t good for a helicopter-based pod-catching strategy.

    In order to catch an engine pod, the helicopter needs to be in the area where the pod is expected to come down and at the time it is expected to appear at an altitude suitable for capture. But that place will be a significant distance from the launch site.

    Helicopters tend to have cruise speeds not much above 100 mph. The place where an engine pod can be expected to come down is likely to be at least 100 miles from the launch site. This means the helicopter must be on its way well before launch.

    But, compared to fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters have neither much range nor much endurance. Even the new CH-53K has a maximum range of only a bit over 500 miles. Its combat radius is about 1/4 of that. Realistically, not even this newest and best of the CH-53 series can be expected to grab an engine pod and make it back from any distance greater than maybe 200 miles from the launch site.

    And that assumes no loitering at the recovery point. A 400 mile round trip would leave almost no fuel reserves to cover waiting due to a delayed launch – even by a few minutes.

    I think a fixed-wing aircraft will have to wind up replacing the notional helicopter in ULA’s engine pod recovery scheme. The best bet would probably be a Lockheed Hercules.

    There are a significant number of ex-military C-130’s of various models available on the civilian market as well as L-100’s, the purpose-built civilian version of the C-130. For sale ads for such aircraft tend to be cagey about asking prices. One such ad offered to include a spare parts inventory valued at $3 million which suggests the actual aircraft’s price is probably in the 8-figure range. I think it would cost a lot more to lease one of these than it costs SpaceX to lease its ASDS barges.

    To sum up, ULA’s proposed engine pod-only recovery scheme for Vulcan 2.0 seems to embody two problems that make it intrinsically economically uncompetitive with SpaceX’s proven approach:

    1) It recovers less of the rocket.

    2) It requires recovery resources that are both much more expensive and harder to acquire than those used by SpaceX.

  • duheagle

    That isn’t likely in the timeframe of interest. The DoD has made it clear there will be fewer launches required over the next several years than over the previous several. Price elasticity of demand is a concept that has only limited application when the purchaser is government.

  • JamesG


  • duheagle

    The availability of enough RD-180’s to continue doing launches for which only the Atlas V is currently certified or capable certainly is a benefit to ULA. Without those engines, ULA wouldn’t be able to generate enough revenue to have any chance of staying alive long enough to field Vulcan.

    Substituting Delta IV’s for Atlas V’s is no solution. Delta’s are significantly more expensive and built at a lower production rate than Atlas V’s. It isn’t generally possible to suddenly double or triple production of something as big and complicated as a major launch vehicle – too many subcontractors who couldn’t provide the necessary quantities of parts.

    Also, ULA needs to end Delta production as soon as possible because it needs to repurpose the Delta assembly line to make Vulcans. ULA can’t do two rockets that different on the same assembly line.

    As to ACES, IVF is based around a piston engine, not a piston pump. The hydro-LOX RL-10 replacement engine XCOR is working on for ULA uses piston pumps to feed its propellants, but this is a completely separate deal from IVF.

    IVF has nothing to do with propulsion. It’s more analogous to an auxiliary power unit on an airliner – a small engine and generator to make power when the main engines aren’t running.

    The engine at the center of IVF will be a high-efficiency 4-stroke piston engine running on boiled-off hydrogen and LOX from the ACES propellant tanks. It will be able to run and generate appreciable power for weeks or even months on trivial amounts of propellant. This will allow an ACES stage to do long coasts between main engine firings on deep space missions without needing solar panels to keep powered. Think of it as the space-going equivalent of a Honda portable generator.

  • JamesG

    However the helicopter only needs to be bought once (hopefully). Most of the ULA graphics show a CH47 Chinook being used, but maybe because its a Boeing product and they could get a wholesale price for it. 😉

    I’m not a particular fan of this concept, I was just presenting it as an alternative that is on the table by one of the main players. Arian’s concept is to stick wings on theirs and fly it back. There are lots of ways to skin this cat.

  • Paul451

    You can even make the argument that a tug can be derived from hardware taken from the meat wagon.

    You probably could, but I’m not really seeing the point. I feel like we’re not really disagreeing as much as not talking about the same thing. What is it that you think SpaceX would have to “develop” or “derive” in order for the MCT system to be able to drop off GEOsats?

    It’s intended to be a fully reusable, low cost, super heavy-lift launcher; plus a full refuelling infrastructure in Earth orbit for the BFS upper-stage. It’s an all purpose super-heavy lift launcher, with a Shuttle-like upper-stage. What is it that you think it can’t do, that ACES can?

    When asked about lunar landing, Musk has said that BFS will be capable of landing there. And certainly in terms of delta-v and engine thrust, you should be able to land (and relaunch) a couple of hundred tonnes of cargo (and personnel) on the moon.

    No-one has asked him if the MCT system will be capable of dropping off a 5-10-20 or 50 tonne comsat in GEO. I assume because they’d expect him to just laugh.

  • duheagle

    Yes, there are many ways to skin the reusability cat. You can use a Boy Scout jackknife, for instance, or you can use a jewel-encrusted dagger. My point was simply that not all schemes are equal in terms of their costs and that ULA’s idea looks to be intrinsically a lot more expensive than what SpaceX is already doing.

    You might be right about that Chinook thing. But a CH-53 can lift more and – the key item – Sikorsky got bought by LockMart last year so its products are all in the family now too.

  • windbourne

    good point.
    One thing that will guarentee that BO will NOT go after Nat Sec launches will be if we have multiple points in space to go to. IOW, multiple space stations and/or the moon.

  • JamesG

    I disagree, obviously. If you look at the evolution of the F9R you can see that it turned out to be more complicated than they originally imagined.

    Parachutes are cheap (and really don’t weigh much). Tankage and structure are cheap. 90% of a rocket’s cost are in the propulsion. That is the only thing that is worth the bother of saving/reusing.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    *** “What is it that you think SpaceX would have to “develop” or “derive” in order for the MCT system to be able to drop off GEOsats?” ***

    My argument is there’s no way MCT can do that job cheaper than something along the lines of ACES. ACES has flight heritage, is cheaper to tank up than an MCT, and does not take a major performance hit in dead mass that an MCT would incur. Your argument seems along the lines of discussion NASA had in the 70’s saying the Shuttle would be cheaper than a Delta ride to GEO. ACES, or an ACES like tug would have the right proportion of structure mass, and correctly sized tanks that could be aimed at the sweet spot of cost per unit miss taken to GEO. And as you know with the delta V needed to get to GEO and circularize, you’re over 80% of your way to anywhere in Near Earth Space.

    The current economy in space is not ready for super heavy lift. It’s ready for, and needs medium lift. A system like ACES makes use of medium lift for assembly and tanking. I think the space economy will be ready for super heavy lift when you have multiple commercial providers providing medium lift and are saturated with work. Just look at things today we only see three or four launches >15 Ton a year. And so far only two customers have built large GEO sats on the promise of F9H. Actually, I think that’s pretty good. However it’s going to take a while for the satellite makers to accept F9H to the point where they build a lot of satellites with it in mind. Perhaps a better measure of when we’re ready for super heavy lift is when the proportion of F9H flights per year outnumbers the quantity of single stick Falcons.

    *** “No-one has asked him if the MCT system will be capable of dropping off a 5-10-20 tonne comsat in GEO. I assume because they’d expect him to just laugh.” ***

    That would be strange if he did, because that’s where the immediate economic activity is. If you want your systems to pay for themselves you can have something else pay for your new systems for a while, but at some point they have to pay for themselves. That job is made all the more effective if your new systems actually serve an existing sector of the economy.

  • Paul451

    My argument is there’s no way MCT can do that job cheaper than something along the lines of ACES. ACES has flight heritage, is cheaper to tank up than an MCT, and does not take a major performance hit in dead mass that an MCT would incur. Your argument seems along the lines of discussion NASA had in the 70’s saying the Shuttle would be cheaper than a Delta ride to GEO.

    This was why I kept using the word “shuttle”. MCT is intended to be what the Shuttle promised, plus add entirely new capabilities.

    Imagine if the design of the STS came even close to delivering on its promises. Highly reusable, rapid turn-around, cheap to operate, etc. Would anyone have used any other launcher? Even if, theoretically, other launchers were somehow fractionally more optimised, would anyone care about them? The STS would be the US launch capacity.

    The same is the case for MCT. If it can make Mars affordable, it will make LEO/GEO/cis-Lune cheap. You seem to think it’s so optimised to Mars that it would need to be heavily modified for LEO-GEO, but it’s just a cargo ship. It’s destination and payload agnostic.

    Musk wants to develop an infrastructure that will only be used once every synod (2 and a bit year). For the rest of the time, what do you think it will be doing? Sitting idle? Not making money from available customers?

    [Plus entire new (or very old) concepts become available. Such as manned GEO stations. Like the Clarke “TV satellite” spacestations.]

  • duheagle

    DoD will not be ULA’s only market. It isn’t even now. In addition to DoD, Atlas V also launches a mission or two per year for NASA. OSIRIS-REx will be going up on an Atlas V in just a few more days. A little later this year another Atlas V will launch GOES-R, a weathersat, for NOAA. Next year there will be a TDRSS launch and an unmanned test flight of Starliner.

    Then things get busier. In 2018, Atlas V’s will boost GOES-S, the Mars Insight lander, and Solar Orbiter plus probably both the manned test of Starliner and its first commercial contract run. Starting in 2019, Atlas V will be launching both Starliners and cargo Dream Chasers to ISS. I figure one Starliner and possibly a second. Probably two Dream Chasers. There will be three or four such missions per year for, initially, Atlas V, then Vulcan through at least 2024. And Atlas V has already been tapped to carry the Mars 2020 Rover.

    SpaceX is already on the hook to add vertical integration capability. They’ll have that available at LC-39A and it may debut even earlier than the Raptor-ized FH upper stage.

    But it isn’t there yet. I suspect that is probably why Atlas V has launched a commercial imaging sat (WorldView 3) and is about to launch its sibling (WorldView 4). These are big birds that are, in essence, junior spooksats. Like actual imaging spooksats, and the Hubble, there is probably a stiff requirement for “This Side Up” handling during every stage of their preparation for launch. DigitalGlobe may well tap ULA for additional WorldView launches even after FH flies, then gets vertical integration capability.

    You seem to think BO will summarily supplant SpaceX as low-cost provider once it starts flying orbital missions. I find that quite unlikely. I would be interested in your reasons for thinking otherwise. I foresee no “retreat” by SpaceX to government business.

    As for ULA’s long near-absence from the commercial market, that had more to do with ULA’s former management than it did with any intrinsic lack of competitiveness for the Atlas V. Former CEO Michael Gass was basically a man with a government bureaucrat’s mentality sitting in a nominally private enterprise chair. He liked running a nice, tidy, low-effort government-sanctioned monopoly. Chasing after commercial business would have been too much like actual work.

    Before SpaceX came along, Atlas V was quite competitive with Ariane 5. In the years before ULA was formed, eight of its first 10 launches were commercial comsats. The other two missions were the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and New Horizons for NASA. It wasn’t until ULA was created and Gass took over that Atlas V actually launched anything for DoD.

    ULA likely could have had considerable commercial business during the next eight years, but Gass declined to expend any effort to acquire some. Since Tory Bruno took over, ULA has launched more commercial missions than it did during Gass’s entire tenure. That seems quite likely to both continue and to ramp up. For Heavy comsats, Atlas V is still price-competitive with Ariane 5. Plus, it launches more frequently and doesn’t require one to find a ride-share partner to put together a joint mission. Gass didn’t want to take the trouble to actually get out there and sell. Tory Bruno exhibits no such reluctance.

    I do share your evaluation of ULA as a development organization. The development of Atlas V and Delta IV took place an entire human generation ago and occurred before ULA was created. ULA, per se, hasn’t developed anything new from scratch nor put it into production during it’s entire history.

    That said, I am encouraged by what I see of the ACES project. If Vulcan is pursued in the same way, ULA could have a very creditable result.

    That same objection, by the way, applies far more forcefully to NASA itself. The last “successful” NASA launch system effort was Shuttle. That was twice as long ago as the gestations of Atlas V and Delta IV. Since then, NASA has amassed an unbroken string of failures to launch. SLS may well become the latest. The meme that NASA is some oracular repository of all space-related wisdom while SpaceX, BO and the rest of the NewSpacers are dim-witted, reckless, parvenu arrivistes is one that still astonishes me every time some reflexive NASA-worshipper trots it out for the N-th time in one of these forums.

  • duheagle

    Given what ULA pays for engines, your 90% figure may be pretty close. The comparable SpaceX figure is said to be ca. 75%. SpaceX managed this by making its engines even less expensive, relative to the tankage and structure, than those used by other launch providers, even after making tankage and structure cheaper too by using mostly common tooling for 1st and 2nd stages. Tankage and structure, being worth relatively more to SpaceX, makes a whole-stage recovery concept more appealing to them than to other launch providers.

    I think a Falcon 9 1st stage costs SpaceX about $12 million to make; a million apiece for each of the 9 Merlins plus $3 million more for everything else.

    For the sake of argument, let’s suppose it costs ULA the same $3 million to make or buy everything besides the RD-180 engine for an Atlas V 1st stage. ULA pays $23 million for each RD-180. Using these numbers, ULA’s engine cost is 88.5% of an Atlas V 1st stage’s cost – pretty much what you said.

    I have no idea what Blue is going to charge ULA for each pair of BE-4’s that are go into Vulcan’s 1st stages. One would hope it isn’t as much as ULA currently pays for an RD-180. But ULA’s reusability plans for Vulcan become easier to understand if one assumes ULA is figuring on rough parity of 1st stage engine costs for Vulcan and Atlas V.

    ULA electing to toss away ca. 11.5% of a booster stage’s value is a rather different decision than SpaceX abandoning a full 25%. Different strokes, different folks.

    But that’s hardly the whole story on reusability. SpaceX’s Gwynne Shotwell said last year that it would cost a minimum of $3 million to launch a recovered F9 1st stage. This is consistent with those costs being mainly for a new 2nd stage and payload fairing to fit atop a recovered 1st stage.

    Both Atlas V and the initial version of Vulcan use Centaur upper stages powered by AJR RL-10 engines. The RL-10 is rumored to cost ULA at least $35 million and possibly over $40 million a copy. When ULA was a monopoly it’s insane engine costs didn’t matter that much. Now, they do.

    The Centaur’s successor is to be ACES. ACES is to be powered by either a Blue Origin BE-3, which has over four times the thrust of an RL-10, or by a roughly RL-10-equivalent engine being developed by XCOR. Neither of these engines seems likely to cost ULA more than perhaps 10% of what it pays AJR for each RL-10.

    That will make ACES, despite being a much more capable and versatile upper stage than Centaur, a much cheaper upper stage as well.

    Contemplating this, one begins to see the thinking behind ULA’s electing to save even 1st stage engine reusability for the 2.0 version of Vulcan. 1st stage engine reuse wouldn’t benefit Vulcan’s economics enough to be worthwhile so long as a new, hyper-expensive, Centaur still had to be acquired for each “recycled” Vulcan launch. When the upper stage needed to refit a recovered Vulcan engine pod becomes the much cheaper ACES, though, the relative value of recovered 1st stage engines takes a huge leap upward.

    As to the costs, in mass and volume, of accommodating the ballute and chute needed to recover a Vulcan 2.0 engine pod, it seems pretty clear that ULA would need something roughly comparable to NASA’s LSDS (Low-density Supersonic Decelerator System). LSDS is that latke- or pupusa-shaped thing (depending upon whether you favor Jewish or Latino food similes) NASA has been testing for the last couple years in Hawaii. It includes both a ballute and a chute.

    Deflated and scrunched up on ascent, LSDS is a 4.7-meter dia. package. Given Vulcan’s 5-meter stage diameter, that is a fortuitous circumstance. I could find no figures for LSDS’s pre-deployment height or volume, but it seems likely to need at least half its diameter by way of height. That’s about 1400 cu. ft. It might well need more.

    LSDS weighs roughly 3.5 tons. Not exactly light. The extra structure volume needed to accommodate it won’t be weightless either. Any LSDS-oid Vulcan engine pod recovery system is going to be both large and hefty. Not as large and hefty as the fraction of propellant SpaceX reserves to get Falcon 9 1st stages back, to be sure. But the ULA system doesn’t bring the whole stage back either.

    The parachute part failed both times LSDS has been tested. So LSDS is still a work in progress. Given that most of its funding got cut recently, it seems neither work nor progress is going to happen anytime soon.

    I think F9 has always been a complicated rocket. Big rockets are sort of irreducibly complicated. But based on what I’ve read, the total part count of current Falcon 9’s probably trails that of the original 1.0 model. True, the F9 has legs now. But the Merlin 1-D engine has a part count significantly lower than the Merlin 1-C that powered F9 v1.0. The current F9 stage separation system also has appreciably fewer parts than it used to. Advances in recoverability do not seem to have involved any net additional complexity.

  • duheagle

    But it doesn’t. A ballute, a chute and a place to put them near the engines are all going to cost considerable mass. There’s always going to be a significant penalty to payload mass relative to the same vehicle without recoverability features. That will be true no matter what those features are.

    And what are the “expensive engineering solutions” you are referring to? Or is that just a different way of saying “payload mass penalty for reusability?”

  • duheagle

    By “inflatable decellerator landing cushions” do you mean Starliner-type airbags? Or are you referring to something re-entry-related such as the LSDS system NASA has teted a couple times. The latter is roughly what would be needed to recover a Vulcan engine pod. LSDS is hardly a “well-established technology.” The two times it was tested, the chute part of it shredded.

  • duheagle

    I don’t have an issue with what is possible, just with what a particular possible approach would cost in dollar and other cost terms to implement. Please open your mind to the very real practical and financial limitations to the competitive practicality of what seems to be your pet idea.

  • duheagle

    None of us assume that SpaceX’s recoverability hardware is massless or costless. Please quit trying to hand-wave away the fact that the proposed ULA engine-only recoverability scheme also has significant mass and cost numbers.

  • duheagle

    ACES will incorporate Integrated Vehicle Fluids (IVF) which is a fancy and confusing name for what amounts to a space-rated portable generator. It’ll use a high-efficiency 4-stroke piston engine that runs on ullage fumes from the LH2 and LOX tanks to allow weeks, months or even years of endurance without having to carry and deploy solar panels or an RTG. Existing upper stages have maximum endurance measurable in hours as they run on batteries.

  • duheagle

    There might be a rational reason to deploy a manned space station in GEO, but replacing existing comsats ain’t it. What untended robots do perfectly well will not be improved – certainly not with respect to operating economics – by having some Maytag repairmen in GEO. That’s one of Gary Church’s goofy 50’s-vintage ideas.

  • Paul451

    Existing upper stages have maximum endurance measurable in hours as they run on batteries.

    However, MCT will be designed to travel between Earth and Mars. It’s not just a conventional upper-stage.

    That’s what I’m trying to understand from Andrew comments. His comments suggest that SpaceX’s Mars plan will “leave a hole” in the LEO-GEO market which ACES will fill. I just don’t see how a vehicle that even comes close to MCT’s requirements would somehow be unsuited to delivering large GEO payloads.

    There might be a rational reason to deploy a manned space station in GEO, but replacing existing comsats ain’t it. What untended robots do perfectly well will not be improved – certainly not with respect to operating economics – by having some Maytag repairmen in GEO.

    Common power, thermal and orbital maintenance reduces the cost of comsats to the actual working electronics. We do the same thing with broadcast towers on high-ground around cities. If a manned launcher lowers the cost of putting humans into space, and new commercial space stations lower the cost of operating humans in space, then it may be cheaper to have facility maintenance crew and routine upgrades; instead of trying to build something that will last, untouched, for 30 years.

    I’ve wondered the same thing about FH’s capacity. Whether bulk mass can reduce the current cost of engineering insanely light space-rated systems. Once people get their head around the idea of “wasting mass”, of “being inefficient”; of focusing on saving money instead of saving ounces.

  • Paul451

    You seem to think BO will summarily supplant SpaceX as low-cost provider once it starts flying orbital missions. I find that quite unlikely. I would be interested in your reasons for thinking otherwise. I foresee no “retreat” by SpaceX to government business.

    Not “supplant”. “Compete with”. If BO can’t compete with SpaceX for the market up to, say, 5 tonnes, then there’s simply no point in their launcher.

    And if SpaceX abandons the Falcon family once MCT is flying (as they abandoned F1), and if MCT isn’t adapted to smaller payloads, then BO may especially take some of that market from SpaceX. (Okay, so that would be “supplant”.)

    I’m not saying that SpaceX will become primarily a government launcher once BO is flying. I’m saying that SpaceX will fight to keep that market, as the gravy on its commercial operations. That puts extra pressure on ULA.

  • ReSpaceAge


  • duheagle

    Blue Origin’s eventual competitiveness in the commercial launch market cannot, of course, be known until the company is actually in the market. That said, the fact that BO has embraced whole-stage reusability suggests it might be able to give more competition to SpaceX than ULA is likely to do. But I’m dubious that BO is likely to capture any large share of the commercial launch market right out of the box.

    I see no reason why SpaceX would abandon Falcon 9. They dumped Falcon 1 because there was insufficient demand for such a vehicle at the time of that decision. Falcon 9, in contrast, has a very fat order book and there is no reason to think it won’t stay that way indefinitely.

    SpaceX has spent a lot of money developing F9. But I don’t expect to see any more major mods to F9 unless SpaceX elects to offer an optional, probably smaller, version of the FH’s upcoming Raptor-based recoverable 2nd stage on F9. I once thought they probably would, but I’m now tending to think not. With development now essentially complete, other than minor tweaks to enhance reusability, SpaceX is going to want to crank out F9 missions and make money.

    BFR-MCT have essentially no mission overlap with F9 or even with FH. I anticipate its LEO throw weight to be a minimum of 200 metric tons. It’s only initial purpose will be to get people and goods to Mars. That will only happen in flurries every 26 months.

    I expect non-Mars work for BFR-MCT to appear once the thing is sufficiently real in the minds of potential users. SpaceX would, I’m sure, prefer to operate the thing continuously and not just when Mars is in a favorable conjunction.

    But BFR-MCT won’t be doing F9 or even FH-type jobs. It’ll be doing things that require its unique capabilities. Lifting ISRU plant modules off Earth and sending them toward target asteroids and/or landing them on the Moon come to mind as likely possibilities.

  • duheagle

    BFR-MCT will be well-adapted to delivering large payloads to pretty much anywhere.

    I have no idea what MCT’s power source is going to be for its Mars missions. Deployable, retractable (for landing on Mars) solar panels would be my guess. Or maybe SpaceX will either buy IVF tech from ULA or roll its own equivalent rig. The latter would probably be more mass- and volume-efficient.

    Once again, manned GEO comm platforms don’t make sense.

    The shared broadcast tower analogy isn’t a good one for exactly that reason – broadcast towers may host a lot of antennas, but nobody lives in them full-time. If something needs replacing or fixing, a person is dispatched to do it, then climbs down and drives away.

    Shared GEO platforms with pluggable electronics packages might make sense at some point, but only if untenanted. Even replacing modules on such things wouldn’t require human presence. The USAF abandoned the Manned Orbiting Laboratory – essentially a manned spooksat – because robot spy eyes in the sky were much cheaper to operate.

  • Paul451

    The shared broadcast tower analogy isn’t a good one for exactly that reason – broadcast towers may host a lot of antennas, but nobody lives in them full-time.

    Actually a lot of broadcast towers are part of inhabited structures. But I know what you are saying…

    If something needs replacing or fixing, a person is dispatched to do it

    From the local community. Not from another continent.

    The USAF abandoned the Manned Orbiting Laboratory – essentially a manned spooksat – because robot spy eyes in the sky were much cheaper to operate.

    Not because robots were cheaper, but because operating humans was so expensive. Yeah, I know, same thing, but the emphasis is important. It was never than robotic systems were fundamentally better than manned systems, it was just that putting humans in space was (and remains) just so horrifically expensive.

    If we are to ever step beyond Earth, that needs to fundamentally change. Not only do we need to lower the cost of getting into orbit, but the cost of supporting humans in space needs to plummet. There can be no “commercial space-stations” without that. Let alone colonising Mars. (Hell, even flags’n’footprints missions to Mars would need a radical shift in support requirements.)

    But if we can do that then suddenly all the advantages of having humans around comes back into play.

  • ReSpaceAge

    Nasa experts on can SpaceX get to Mars in 10 years.
    They have no clue of SpaceX Plans!

  • ReSpaceAge

    Check out Nasa “experts” criticizing SpaceX Mars Plans