Author Topic: SpaceX will almost certainly have another failure within the next 3 years.  (Read 77743 times)

Offline Robotbeat

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Assume SpaceX gets 15 launches next year, 25 the next, and 35 the next. Even if they have industry-leading reliability of 99% (compared to 90-96% typical), their odds of NOT having a failure are just 47%.

This doesn't mean they're pathetic losers who don't know anything about rocketry. Heck even with a respectable 95% success rate, that means that going even that first year of 15 launches without failure is just 46%.

SpaceX may even ramp to a higher launch rate, which further increases the probability of having a failure at some point unless they improve the reliability even more to compensate.

SpaceX will be debuting Falcon Heavy and possibly another Falcon 9 variant. That doesn't help those odds.

This business in NOT for the faint of heart.
« Last Edit: 12/29/2016 01:08 am by Robotbeat »
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Offline Robotbeat

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A corrolary of this is it's not reasonable to expect them to simultaneously launch the most rockets, innovate, and suffer no failures.

Neither is it reasonable to expect them to self-fund a couple dozen Falcon launches without any paying payloads just to prove reliability.
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Offline sdsds

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You made the same claim (eventually a failure) regarding ULA. Your statistics are sound. But you are discounting to zero the possibility than a launch service provider can go totally out of business without experiencing a launch failure.
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Offline Robotbeat

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You made the same claim (eventually a failure) regarding ULA. Your statistics are sound. But you are discounting to zero the possibility than a launch service provider can go totally out of business without experiencing a launch failure.
ULA dodged a bullet recently. The Cygnus-Atlas launch suffered significant underperformance. If it were going to a higher energy orbit, it could've easily been a failure. No one is immune. ULA knows this, just ask them.

But also notice how I'm talking about a much higher flight rate for SpaceX than for ULA. It takes ULA 6 years roughly to do 75 launches.

My assumption there is that SpaceX will significantly increase flight rate year on year unless they have a failure. ULA charges enough that their manifest doesn't grow like that.
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Offline Robotbeat

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By the way, I think ULA may have 99% company-wide launch reliability at this point. You could even make an okay case for 99.5%. But all that changes as soon as they field Vulcan or even a re-engined Atlas.

So suppose SpaceX DOES succeed in avoiding a failure of Falcon 9 during the next 3 years and gets that high launch rate. SpaceX will have proved their reliability, probably made significant profit by the end of 2019 (no doubt plowed back into development), at just the moment ULA needs to introduce a new rocket (Vulcan) with all the risk that entails.
« Last Edit: 12/29/2016 01:31 am by Robotbeat »
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Offline sdsds

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Yes, good points and I think your assumption about increasing year over year flight rates for SpaceX is sound. But consider the case of Qantas. They have a very high flight rate in comparison! Will they certainly suffer a flight mishap with no survivors one day? No ... because they could go out of business first!

So too in theory with the future of F9, or any other launch system. Delta IV, for example, could fly out all its remaining missions and never experience loss of a payload.
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Offline Robotbeat

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First Delta IV Heavy failed to put its payloads in GSO. So the payloads were basically lost.

But yeah. It could happen. However, I see basically no chance of SpaceX going out of business without that being triggered by launch failure or a series of launch failures. I suppose Musk could die, but still think SpaceX would keep flying for at least a bit afterward (and probably a LOT longer... Apple seems to be doing fine without Jobs, to use an analogy). Very little other than Falcon 9 suffering more failures could outright kill SpaceX.
« Last Edit: 12/29/2016 01:38 am by Robotbeat »
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Offline sdsds

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On a related note, Mike Griffin actually dared to do math in public. When there were something like 18 STS missions still to fly he did:

(79/80)^18 = 80%. That scared me plenty!
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Offline sdsds

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Very little other than Falcon 9 suffering more failures could outright kill SpaceX.

Direct thermonuclear strike on Hawthorne?

That's only partly a jest. Something completely outside the sphere of SpaceX but huge in scope could sweep SpaceX up in a wave of change, destructive or not. For any known threat to SpaceX we can estimate a likelihood of it coming to pass. But for the "unknown unknowns?"
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Offline Robotbeat

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On a related note, Mike Griffin actually dared to do math in public. When there were something like 18 STS missions still to fly he did:

(79/80)^18 = 80%. That scared me plenty!
Yup.

By the way, this is one reason why other approaches to developing reuse might work. Build a reusable first stage, and fly it more and more, harder and harder until it fails. Then, fix the failure and any near misses and do it again. Repeat a dozen or so times or until you can do, say, 500 flights in a row without failure. Then do the same thing but with an upper stage.

"Only" drawback is this is insanely expensive, and it encourages you to start small and suborbital. Blue Origin basically is doing a mild version of this, but they actually haven't done that much flying. Masten has come the closest, though is very far from the Karman Line, still.
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Offline Lar

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This suggests a related question. If another F9 failure is likely, what can SpaceX do to mitigate impact?
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline Lee Jay

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This suggests a related question. If another F9 failure is likely, what can SpaceX do to mitigate impact?

Get 25 or more successes before it happens.

Offline Lar

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This suggests a related question. If another F9 failure is likely, what can SpaceX do to mitigate impact?

Get 25 or more successes before it happens.

That's not really a risk mitigation strategy, because if you knew how to get to 25 without a failure, you'd know how to get to 50 without a failure too. and 100, and 200...

I'm saying what steps can they or should they take to mitigate the financial impact and reputational impact if it happens.  The "free reflight" policy in place is an example of mitigating reputational impact.  Are there other things?  Maybe that's another thread...
« Last Edit: 12/29/2016 02:58 am by Lar »
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline Robotbeat

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This suggests a related question. If another F9 failure is likely, what can SpaceX do to mitigate impact?

Get 25 or more successes before it happens.
Easier said than done when introducing updates to Falcon 9 and a new launch vehicle, Falcon Heavy. I give MAYBE 50:50 chance.

Getting 25 launches in a row is hard even for a well-proven rocket.

Also, you say that is if SpaceX can just wave a magic wand and make it so.

Even if they do everything right that could reasonably be foreseen, they'll be lucky to launch the next 25 launches without another failure.
« Last Edit: 12/29/2016 03:00 am by Robotbeat »
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Offline Robotbeat

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The first Delta IV Heavy launch was a failure.
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Offline jongoff

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On a related note, Mike Griffin actually dared to do math in public. When there were something like 18 STS missions still to fly he did:

(79/80)^18 = 80%. That scared me plenty!
Yup.

By the way, this is one reason why other approaches to developing reuse might work. Build a reusable first stage, and fly it more and more, harder and harder until it fails. Then, fix the failure and any near misses and do it again. Repeat a dozen or so times or until you can do, say, 500 flights in a row without failure. Then do the same thing but with an upper stage.

"Only" drawback is this is insanely expensive, and it encourages you to start small and suborbital. Blue Origin basically is doing a mild version of this, but they actually haven't done that much flying. Masten has come the closest, though is very far from the Karman Line, still.

IIRC Dave started Masten with roughly $500k (most of his net worth), and to my best estimate they received less than $3M total of private investment (including Dave's money) through when they transitioned to cashflow positive operations doing EDL test flights. If you include the NGLLC as government investment, call it $4M. Compare that with the $100M Elon had to start SpaceX, coupled with the $100M of private investment before Google's $1B investment, and >$1.5B in government development contracts. Blue Origin probably hasn't had a year in the last 6-7 where they haven't spent more than Masten has had in combined investment in revenue in it's total history.

It's hard to separate the relative effectiveness of approaches from the relative availability of pre-existing capital the companies have had. I still think that a well-funded "start small with full RLV" approach could beat both SpaceX and Blue Origin's approaches, but it would take someone having access to the capital to try it.

~Jon

Offline john smith 19

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Easier said than done when introducing updates to Falcon 9 and a new launch vehicle, Falcon Heavy. I give MAYBE 50:50 chance.
Which is exactly the survival chances for any new ELV.

In principle if FH is derived from F9 then a fair chunk of it has already been launch tested, which should improve the success odds a bit
MCT ITS BFR SS. The worlds first Methane fueled FFSC engined CFRP SS structure A380 sized aerospaceplane tail sitter capable of Earth & Mars atmospheric flight.First flight to Mars by end of 2022 TBC. T&C apply. Trust nothing. Run your own #s "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" R. Simberg."Competitve" means cheaper ¬cheap SCramjet proposed 1956. First +ve thrust 2004. US R&D spend to date > $10Bn. #deployed designs. Zero.

Offline sdsds

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The first Delta IV Heavy launch was a failure.

This directly indicates the importance of a related observation: not all failures "count" equally.

It really helps if for example your payload is called, "DemoSat." ;)

It also helps when your customer is kind enough to say just after the anomaly:
"We are very pleased with the overall performance of the Delta 4-Heavy Demo"

Those were the words of Col. John Insprucker, EELV program director at the Space and Missile Systems Center.
http://www.spaceflightnow.com/delta/d310/041222update.html

So for example if FH drops its "Demo Flight" payload into the drink, that just doesn't count against them as much as blowing up a customer's payload on the pad during a static fire.
« Last Edit: 12/29/2016 06:46 am by sdsds »
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Offline FutureSpaceTourist

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This suggests a related question. If another F9 failure is likely, what can SpaceX do to mitigate impact?

Get 25 or more successes before it happens.

That's not really a risk mitigation strategy, because if you knew how to get to 25 without a failure, you'd know how to get to 50 without a failure too. and 100, and 200...

I'm saying what steps can they or should they take to mitigate the financial impact and reputational impact if it happens.  The "free reflight" policy in place is an example of mitigating reputational impact.  Are there other things?  Maybe that's another thread...

I'd ask the question a different way, those SpaceX customers looking for alternative launches appear to have been driven more by schedule than reliability concerns. So why haven't two failures in 15 months shaken customer confidence more?

My guess is that customers are bought into what SpaceX is trying to achieve and have seen enough progress to think it's worth continuing to stick with them. I suspect the openness SpaceX has in terms of failure investigations might be a factor? Perhaps also two failures is not considered so bad at this stage in F9s development, or at least that what SpaceX does to address the issues reassure customers?

Finally, does a lower price mean customers are more tolerant of a higher risk and so is lower pricing effectively an impact mitigation too? So does pushing ahead with S1 re-use, and say 25% lower costs, actual help more in mitigating impact than arguably increased risk of re-use?

Offline john smith 19

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This suggests a related question. If another F9 failure is likely, what can SpaceX do to mitigate impact?
Transparency on the MIB seems to help, along with a prompt RTF.

The problem (shared by all VTO TSTOs) is there does not seem to be anywhere you can fit an LES that gets the payload back safely.

Do that and the customers may grumble about schedule slippage, or the need to refly on another LV, but they won't be nearly as annoyed as a full LOM.

MCT ITS BFR SS. The worlds first Methane fueled FFSC engined CFRP SS structure A380 sized aerospaceplane tail sitter capable of Earth & Mars atmospheric flight.First flight to Mars by end of 2022 TBC. T&C apply. Trust nothing. Run your own #s "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" R. Simberg."Competitve" means cheaper ¬cheap SCramjet proposed 1956. First +ve thrust 2004. US R&D spend to date > $10Bn. #deployed designs. Zero.

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