Video: Falcon Heavy Flew One Year Ago Today

One year ago, I was on a beach in Florida watching the Falcon Heavy launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Today, I’m in Mojave where it is currently 37 F (2.8 C) and it was snowing and below freezing last night.

  • ThomasLMatula

    It’s nice and warm in Brownsville, and the gas is only $1.78/gal in Texas 🙂

  • Terry Stetler

    That triangle of reinforced footings is interesting.

  • Robert G. Oler

    and has had nearly no effect on the space launch equation sadly

  • Jeff2Space

    Tell that to ULA, or at least the employees that it hasn’t let go already.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Falcon evolved to fit the satellite community and was very successful as a result, getting satellites to evolve to fit the launch vehicle was always going to be a long game of chicken and egg with someone having to play financial chicken while they made eggs hoping enough would hatch. It’s a rough game. Thinking of all the ways Falcon is underutilized today, should BFR come to the market, it (BFR) will be underutilized to an amazingly larger degree. I think BFR could very well become something like the old “SS Great Eastern” a ship so far ahead of her time, she took her owners into bankruptcy.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Perhaps, or perhaps it is more equivalent to the B747.,.

    “There had been initial resistance to the 747, especially by some US airlines, because of its enormous size – there were concerns most airports wouldn’t be able to accommodate it. But Boeing was convinced those airlines having to cross oceans – like those flying from New York to London and back again – would see the benefits of such a large aircraft. One major factor in its favour was the fact it could carry up to 550 passengers, nearly four times as many as the 707.”

    BTW Elon Musk already has the Raptor engine up to 90% of its design thrust in just a few days…

    SpaceX’s Starship engine hits twice the thrust of Merlin just days after test debut

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The jump from 707/DC-8 to 747 was small compared to what will happen should BFR/BFS/Sarship/SuperHeavy work. It really will be much more like the transition from sail to coal that the Great Eastern made. So that’s why I think that might be a historical comparison. If the argument holds that the

    BFR/BFS/Sarship/SuperHeavy is truly reusable and the most significant cost of reflight is the cost of propellant, then it won’t be a “Great Eastern”. However consider the Great Eastern did pioneering work in her era and marked the first appearance of what would become 20th cen shipping. It was not wasted effort at all, she just did not make money and her type did not see regular use until 50 years later.

    Any 100 ton/tonne class launch vehicle is going to face the issue of lack of payloads or lack of relevance. By nature of promised reuse BFR/BFS/Sarship/SuperHeavy might find a place in the market to survive, while the others are going to be play things of states and rich men for some time.

  • ThomasLMatula

    For those interested this is a website that is “tracking” the Roadster as it goes on it travels through the Solar System.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I’ve used that one and the Great Eastern is an excellent example

    The B747 was an easy jump from the 707 because there were “some” but not many technology issues, 2) the airplane definately would meet its cost and 3) there were established markets that ONLY needed volume. none of these are true for the BF whatever it is called

  • Terry Stetler

    4 FH launches coming up, 2 USAF and 2 commsats. Two this spring, about a month apart; ArabSat 6A and USAF STP-2. NASA’s also considering FH for Europa Clipper (+ a Star 48 kick motor) if SLS slides much further right. There’ll alsoabe a commercial bid on the LOP-G Power and Propulsion Element launch.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The SS Great Eastern was not the first to make the transition from steam to coal, that was the SS Great Western in 1838, followed by the SS Great Britian in 1845. Both were successful and the SS Great Britian is now a museum ship. The SS Great Eastern was so large because it was designed specifically for the trip from London to Calcutta and needed to carry a lot of coal, but was never used for it. But it did wire the world when it was used for laying undersea cables. It laid 30,000 miles of undersea cable a fact not well appreciated now.

    But what you seem to be missing, being stuck on the size of the Starship, is the cost. Elon Muak has repeatedly noted that by making it fully reusable he will get the price for a launch at around $10 million a launch. Which means he will have dominance in the launch market. Why pay $60 million for a Falcon 9R when you are able to launch for $10 million on a Starship? Yes, it may only carry a 10 ton satellite instead using its full 100 tons, but it will still be more profitable to use it.

    Or if looking at a passenger version, how many folks do you think will travel to orbit for $50,000 a seat? Remember, it has more pressurized space than the ISS has and10 times as much as the proposed NASA Gateway station.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I’m not missing the point about
    BFR/BFS/Sarship/SuperHeavy being cheaper than a Falcon to fly. I just don’t believe it. I also don’t believe it’s going to come in ‘on time’ and thus, it will be more expensive as it integrates more development time and thus cost. I don’t believe the market will support a high launch rate to average out the larger development cost I think they’ll incur. I also don’t believe that the bulk of the cost of a reflight will lie with the propellant bill. I think there’s going to be extensive refurb in early models while the design matures, and I’m expecting the first hulls to have short lifetimes. They threw out a lot of work on the carbon version, they’ll have to mature the design of the steel ship. History shows Space X is late when it comes to developing things on their own dime and the governments nickel. All of Elon’s other enterprises come in late. That’s fine, he tries hard things, and eventually slides into home plate, but you have to relax the time constraints with him. You can’t believe his schedules, not early in a program anyway. Even late in a program they still slide first flights like Crew Dragon a week or two after months of delays, which came after years of delays. Space is hard and why you still believe their schedules after nearly two decades of delays … well, I’ll just ask you why?

  • Robert G. Oler

    But what you seem to be missing, being stuck on the size of the
    Starship, is the cost. Elon Muak has repeatedly noted that by making it
    fully reusable he will get the price for a launch at around $10 million a


    IF and it is a big big IF he does that then well he might have something, but I am not sure what makes you think he will do that.

    Musk has missed every cost estimate that he has put out. his cost estimate depends on the BF whatever being fully reusable…and he has not done that yet with a much smalleer much less complicated vehicle.

    IF he does that he will have dominance in the launch vehicle market… BUT had he ever gotten the Falcon 9 first stage to “48 hour turnaround” he would have as well

    and he wont

    I dont have a clue why you folks constantly accept his claims as if they are reality

  • Robert G. Oler

    you live in reality.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Or if looking at a passenger version, how many folks do you think will travel to orbit for $50,000 a seat?

    LOL even IF BF whatever works…how can he charge that little?

    you are the main drum beater of the claim that there is no need for him to charge less for Falcon because the market wont bear it and HE needs tor ecoup all his cost

    OK why is he going to drop the cost of a ticket to “propellent”

    when he has 5 to 10 billion of development cost to recoup? explain that to me

  • Robert G. Oler

    yes I think it will have an affect it just has not yet 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler

    The Great Eastern works, another “example” is the XC99…the technology worked, but just barely and with enormous expense. Trippe looked at the plane but when he looked at the maintenance cost…well as he put it “it needs federal dollars”. plus the airplane carried “just to many people”…now oddly enough it was not that great a leap from that to the 707…but the industry was at a different place with the 99 then with the 707…and the technology on the 707 worked.

    what Tom and the rest of the gang are hoping for “is a miracle” but as you point out…they cannot even make Dragon crew work…of course Tom will tell you that is NASA’s fault but its not

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Consider that in the Non-Han world ™ (<- Trade marked by ME) Space X already dominates. They've halved launch costs across the board, the revolution did not happen. It did cause an evolution, which is great (I mean that) but to the Get Rich Quick Squad ™ that's not enough.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    XC-99 is a great example. But BF(X) will be even more risky, at least the ’99 could draw on B-36 heritage.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yep, this steam engine is only going 30 mph, not the 40 mph promised. We should have stuck with those horses. Or as Yoda would say…

    The entire point of a fully RLV TSTO is that you don’t throw anything away, which is where the real cost reductions are. The Raptor was designed and built using ALL the experience gained from the Kestrel engine. The experience with the Falcon series was used to design the Super Heavy booster.

    And yes, it is a design, unlike the Space Shuttle, intended to mature by experience. Elon Musk has already stated that there Will be changes from the first test vehicles to the operational one based on experience. Just as there were changes in the Falcon series, going from the Falcon 1 to the Falcon 9R Block 5. That is a feature not a bug. The DC-1 was a good plane, the DC-2 better, The DC-3 even better followed by the C-47, then the R4D, then Super DC-3… Then Douglas jumped to the DC-4, DC-6, DC-7… And yes the DC-5 was a failure, but there is no progress with failing occasionally, it is how REAL progress occurs.

    The problem with the NASA Space Shuttle was that there never was a
    Shuttle II that incorporated the lessons of the first generation of
    Space Shuttles. Rockwell proposed one for the X-33 competition, but it
    was ignored in favor of the most difficult way, the Lockheed way, to do
    an RLV.

    And its not a matter of believing the schedules but looking at the progress towards the outcomes. I was at the Churchill Club’s Space Commerce conference in 2002 when Elon Musk first announced SpaceX and stated he planned to have the Falcon 1 flying within a year, so I understand more than you do about the delays. But I am not looking at the schedule, that is the Old Space Project Management mindset, but at the end goal which he has a good track record of accomplishing.

  • ThomasLMatula

    None of those bomber conversions, including the B377, never really worked out in terms of economics. No different then the ICBM conversions (Delta, Atlas, Titan) that built the impression space access will always be expensive.

    And yes, the Dragon2 schedule is reflective of NASA and its micromanagement of it. It is why Elon Musk has basically walked away from it, left it to his second string engineers, and gone full speed into building the Starship/Super Heavy, without letting NASA meddle with it. He has detached himself from your beloved NASA tar baby, something Boeing, ATK or Lockheed were never able to do.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The XC-99 was nothing but a B-36 with a new fuselage.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Again, you don’t understand the basics of elasticity in price curves. The Falcon 9R is still operating in the inelastic part of the demand curve, the Starship will move space launch down into the elastic portion of it. That is the entire reason Elon Musk is doing the Starship.

  • ThomasLMatula

    It didn’t because it is still in the inelastic region of the price curve for space launch.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    “The entire point of a fully RLV TSTO is that you don’t throw anything away, which is where the real cost reductions are.”

    We get that! We just think it’s going to take longer to get there. We don’t disagree on specifics, what we disagree on it outcomes. You think there’ll be a revolution, I think there’ll be evolution with the chance of outright failure. And I don’t think outright failure is a remote possibility, I think it’s staring the program right in the face. Like I said before, Musk makes it to home base, but not off his own swings, he needs other batters to bat him in, and it takes several plays.

    Falcon has changed very little in space launch beyond who does it. The Russians are out, and the Americans in. That’s great, outside of Space X nothing was going to upset the Russian/Chinese/European state tri-opoly. However, it has not changed the satellite market beyond Iridium and Formosa Sat.

  • Robert G. Oler

    You dont understand technology development.

    The DC 1 was a good plane, the DC 2 better….blah blah

    What you dont grasp is that WHY the DC 1 was a good plane.

    The DC 1 (or you can insert the 707 or most Boeings or…even the 247) is that they were good planes because 1) their development cost were consistent with the market that was achievable, 2) there operational cost were consistent with the market that was achievable 3) there capabilities were consistent with the market that was achievable with slight and modest expansion and 4) their operational knowledge allowed the “easy” and cheap follow on development of “upgrades”

    Douglas did not “jump” to the DC 6…and neither did Boeing jump to the B29…what both companies did is respond to the EXPANSION of the market and technology that WW2 brought on all by the spending of enormous federal dollars both in the effort itself and technology.

    Musk has accomplished so far NONE of this. He has not expanded the market to justify the expansion of the technology, its not even clear that he has paid himself back for Falcon 9 and Heavy reusable cost…

    IN OTHER WORDS his expenditure of funds to make the first STage reusable SO FAR have not paid off in 1) significantly lower launch cost to bring in more customers so 2) he can pay off the development cost of his “reusability efforts” and in large measure because 3) it is becoming clear that he has not achieved reusability but simple refurbishment.

    The shuttle failed not because there was not a follow on vehicle…but it failed because it was to big a leap to pay back the investment in it, an investment which failed to significantly lower cost (in fact drove them up) and hence there was no political appitite to spend the money on a second try.

    Its not the steam engine going 20 instead of 40 MPH. It is the steam engine going what ever distance at enormous cost that never allowed the client base to repay the investment in it.

    Until Musk could make Falcon work ie fly 1 a week as he use to claim…it was silly to go on to something grander.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Thats not accurate.

    The B377 was the 777 of its day…it shifted Boeing from predominantly a military plane manufactor to a commercial one…and was the bread and butter of long haul flying (ie routes longer than NY to London) for almost a decade. Without it…there is no B707.

    Prewar Boeing made a deliberate marketing decision to push b247 development not toward another commerical airplane product, in large measure because they could not see current or near technology making a better airliner then the DC 3…toward the military with the B17 aka the 299 which is more or less a four engine 247.

    They did this because they thought correctly that appropriate innovation could take for them the military bomber market. Musk could have done this had he done what the USAF wanted which was take the raptor engine and put it on a Falcon and FH first stage as a second stage. That he didnt is why he didnt get any more USAF money.

    Andrew is correct the only market Musk “owns” is what use to be the Russian/Chinese and European private launch market.

    The SC 99 was nothing but a B36 with a new fuselage…and it should have worked…but 1) the market was not there for large capability long range travel…ie replacing the B377 with something that carried far more passengers…in almost total Business class service

    And 2) the technology was to expensive.

    Sound familiar 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler

    Two points

    1. What if Starship does not work? Ie it is no more reusable than F9 first stage is? Ie refurbishable and after spending 5 billion dollars on it, he has to spend billions more on more versions

    2. If it works, how can he regroup the 5 billion to develop it with 50K seats?

    I dont get it. He never can close the loop…

    What you are admiting with “the FAlcon 9R is still operating…” is that its failed.

    Ie for all the money he has spent on reusability he could not get the cost down into the part of the demand curve that increases demand.

    I agree with that. What makes you think he accomplishes this with STarship?

  • Robert G. Oler

    Yes. Thomas is starting to admit that the F9 resuability was a failure…ie it didnt get out of the inelastic region of the price curve…

    Which means that all the money spent on resuability was wasted.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    We’ll have to see what he says, but the point I think he’s trying to make is that half is not cheap enough. I’d say it’s not the main deterrent to entering the satellite market. I’d say the main deterrent is lack of business applications that will give a phat enough return on investment to satisfy the current business and investment sector.

    As for Space X’s finances. From what I see, it seems that at worse they’re like the major American domestic airlines before the majors were allowed to merge down to three and cartel their airfares into profitability. Scaled to the overall costs of the operations their losses were small and could be made up quarter to quarter with the sale of stock or loans. They were then facing the long term implications of payments on interest on past loans, dividends, bonuses for management and other malfunctions of the modern American business sector. If Space X did indeed put itself into that range money in vs money out after halving launch costs, that’s not bad. That fits into my idea that Space is a market ripe for evolution and not revolution. From my time in the small sat launch community trying to drum up business I found out that no matter what you come to the table with satellite manufacturers are not going to change. There’s no huddled masses of oppressed entrepreneurs waiting to break free of the chains of high launch cost. In fact what I came across was an economy that in part depends on the high cost of satellite engineering, procurement, and launch. I think that’s why Musk is trying to be his own customer with Starlink.

  • Robert G. Oler

    We’ll have to see what he says, but the point I think he’s trying to make is “that half is not cheap enough/////

    if that is what he is saying I think I agree with him…which of course calls into question why Musk spent all that money on “refurbishment/usability” if he could jack the price down in doing it low enough to change the launch equation

    and it calls into question his thinking with Star whatever

    “From my time in the small sat launch community trying to drum up
    business I found out that no matter what you come to the table with
    satellite manufacturers are not going to change

    I would agree with what you wrote. nothing happens revolutionary but evolutionary …if small sats with different design standards are going to “be the way” we will have to get there slowly as they and their constellations are proven to work

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Nature fights you when you go small. If you want to take pictures or if you want to communicate as two examples nature demands power for communications and light gathering power as well as signal coherence demanding large optics, providing these requirements demands a large power plant. We’re in a real California gold rush, and we’re slowly starting to evolve the economy where “Mr Levi” can mine the miners.

  • Robert G. Oler

    no I think we both understand it pretty well, what you are saying is that Falcon9 reuse/refurb of the first stage will never take the vehicle into the elastic part of the price curve…and hence it is a reasonable conclusion that reuse has failed