Author Topic: SpaceX Reusable Falcon 9 (Grasshopper ONLY) DISCUSSION Thread (4)  (Read 293266 times)

Offline beancounter

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Someone in the know.  Has SpaceX made progress on their VTVL GH more quickly that other such as Armadillo, Masten et al?  If so, is it funding that does it, determination, or what?
Thanks in advance.
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Offline Robotbeat

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Someone in the know.  Has SpaceX made progress on their VTVL GH more quickly that other such as Armadillo, Masten et al?  If so, is it funding that does it, determination, or what?
Thanks in advance.
I wouldn't say they've made more progress faster, considering they started with the infrastructure of an orbital capability. Funding is a huge one, as well as having readily available high-performance rocket engines and tanks, etc. Also, there are several milestones which Armadillo and Masten passed which SpaceX still has yet to demonstrate such as (especially) in-air relights, LOTS (i.e. dozens) of flights with fast-turnaround on the same airframe, deployable legs, etc...
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Online meekGee

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Someone in the know.  Has SpaceX made progress on their VTVL GH more quickly that other such as Armadillo, Masten et al?  If so, is it funding that does it, determination, or what?
Thanks in advance.

If you normalize by the weight of the vehicle, they most certainly have...  :)

SpaceX, Armadillo, Masten, and Virgin Galactic were all founded at about the same time (2003-ish).  (I should also mention XCOR which started a bit earlier, and Blue Origin)

While the others took the "bottom up" approach - starting with small reusable suborbital (or non-orbital) vehicles and hoping to work their way up to orbital and larger rockets, SpaceX took the opposite approach - they spent their first years on building a large orbital vehicle and a matching engineering capability, and only relatively recently turned into making it reusable.

The result is that a) they are now moving through the paces of development a lot faster, and b) they are playing with much larger and more mature toys.

So a point-by-point comparison of milestones achieved is a bit misleading.  They indeed didn't do engine-relight or dozens of flight - but it's important to keep track of which vehicle they didn't do these things with...
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Offline jongoff

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Someone in the know.  Has SpaceX made progress on their VTVL GH more quickly that other such as Armadillo, Masten et al?  If so, is it funding that does it, determination, or what?
Thanks in advance.

At least in Masten's case, we were all learning how to build rocket vehicles from scratch. A lot of the delays we faced in the early days were driven by having to learn the fundamentals the hard way. Combined with near constant cashflow crunches. And challenges getting the right mix of skillsets. When our team and funding finally clicked, and we had finally worked our way into a decent throttleable engine, we went from zero flights to the NGLLC win (with about 80 flights under our belt) in about half a year. I think the total Masten had spent by that time, in 6yrs of operations was only around $3M, including salaries for on average 4-5 engineers, and all the hardware costs.

All that said, I think the SpaceX team is doing great things with their resources, and I don't think it's really possible to compare them to Masten or AA's situation. They've got more resources, but they're also going after a harder problem. At the scale they're working at, I think they're making pretty darned fast progress. You'll get no criticisms from me.

~Jon

Offline Robotbeat

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SpaceX also had a founder with something in the range of $100s of millions to start the company up, plus access to billions in his "Paypal (sorry, need to stop here for a second and just say that I have to use stupid words to get my point across. I know that means I must have a weak argument, but that's why I use bad words)." (the founders of paypal that like to invest in each other's companies) and the general well-regard of big-wigs in venture capital. That makes a big difference. But I agree that pursuing a fairly conventional technical approach to orbit paid off pretty well for them.
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Online meekGee

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heh, maybe I should  have further normalized by 1/$ invested, but the original question was about gauging technical development speed.

---

I remember trying out tennis as a kid.  Most of us served like wimps since we didn't want to fault, and we hoped we'd learn to serve faster later.  Except for one kid, who would whip his entire being into the serves, sending them invariably in every direction and over the fence, and obviously faulting all the time....  His plan was to figure out the aiming part later.

He was right of course, since the effort we put into controlling our weak-a$$ed serves was wasted, since even if we did learn to serve properly, we'd have to re-learn how to aim.  Meanwhile, when those mighty serves started homing in, it was quite the jolt.

Grasshopper is kinda like that IMO.  SpaceX is just at the point where the disciplined investment in development is starting to pay off.   That's why they could just whip GH up using existing components and engineering capabilities, in a relatively short amount of time. (If we estimate GH was conceived right after F9 1.0 Fight 1, then it's only been 2 years before its first flight)

Hey, btw, GH is about 1 yr old right now.
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Offline LegendCJS

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Anyone within day trip distance of the MIT campus in Cambridge MA?  Got an advertisement for the following presentation:

Quote
SPACEX

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7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
ROOM 35-225
FIRST STEPS TOWARDS SPACEX'S
REUSABLE ROCKETS
LARS BLACKMORE
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Lars Blackmore is SpaceX's Responsible Engineer for reusability of the Falcon 9 rocket. Lars' team develops algorithms for precision landing of rapidly reusable space launch vehicles, including the Grasshopper rocket, with the eventual goal of reducing the cost of reaching orbit by an order of magnitude. Prior to SpaceX, Lars was with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory where he co-developed the GFOLD system for precision Mars landing and worked on the Soil Moisture Active Passive climate change mission. Lars has a PhD ('07) from MIT in optimal guidance and navigation under stochastic uncertainty and an MEng ('03) from Cambridge University in the UK
Remember: if we want this whole space thing to work out we have to optimize for cost!

Offline oldAtlas_Eguy

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Intesting that he left JPL for SpaceX. Maybe he was twiddling his thumbs too much with all the slowdown of planatary surface missions at NASA.

Offline savuporo

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we went from zero flights to the NGLLC win (with about 80 flights under our belt) in about half a year.
And almost all externally visible progress, in a way of measurable milestones, slowed down a lot after that.

I think it has been demonstrated by multiple teams around the world by now that with moderate amount of funding and talented engineers you can build VTVL rocket hopper modules. Starting with DC-X, all the NGLLC entrants, RVT, Blue Origin, AND Grasshopper etc. And oh, lets not forget Dan Schlund and others ..
What has not been demonstrated at all to date, is the relevance of all that to spaceflight.
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Offline oldAtlas_Eguy

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Yes the ability to make it work in a business case.

Offline Nomadd

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we went from zero flights to the NGLLC win (with about 80 flights under our belt) in about half a year.
And almost all externally visible progress, in a way of measurable milestones, slowed down a lot after that.

I think it has been demonstrated by multiple teams around the world by now that with moderate amount of funding and talented engineers you can build VTVL rocket hopper modules. Starting with DC-X, all the NGLLC entrants, RVT, Blue Origin, AND Grasshopper etc. And oh, lets not forget Dan Schlund and others ..
What has not been demonstrated at all to date, is the relevance of all that to spaceflight.
How many of those others were developed from functioning rockets? Seeing how Grasshopper is made from a mostly off the shelf first stage and engine, I'd say it's a whole lot more relevant to spaceflight.
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Offline Robotbeat

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They're all relevant to spaceflight. You can start with orbital and expendable and work your way down or you can start with suborbital and reusable and work your way up. Both approaches are probably needed to get us to where we are today, which is within perhaps 5 years of two operational RLVs, F9R and Blue Origin's booster.
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Offline savuporo

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They're all relevant to spaceflight. You can start with orbital and expendable and work your way down or you can start with suborbital and reusable and work your way up. ...

My point was this: remains to be demonstrated.
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Offline Robotbeat

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They're all relevant to spaceflight. You can start with orbital and expendable and work your way down or you can start with suborbital and reusable and work your way up. ...

My point was this: remains to be demonstrated.
Just because it hasn't already been entirely done doesn't mean it isn't relevant to spaceflight. They were all done on the path to spaceflight. They sure as heck weren't built to deliver groceries!
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Offline jongoff

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we went from zero flights to the NGLLC win (with about 80 flights under our belt) in about half a year.
And almost all externally visible progress, in a way of measurable milestones, slowed down a lot after that.

Well, in Masten's case a big part of that was that three of the company's four engineers had left within 9 months of the prize competition.  We tried to get as much put in place before we left (including doing the in-air relight flight on Xombie and getting the aeroshell, landing gear, and vehicle design for Xaero finalized), but when you have that much turnover that quickly, it's pretty hard not to lose momentum.

Quote
I think it has been demonstrated by multiple teams around the world by now that with moderate amount of funding and talented engineers you can build VTVL rocket hopper modules. Starting with DC-X, all the NGLLC entrants, RVT, Blue Origin, AND Grasshopper etc. And oh, lets not forget Dan Schlund and others ..
What has not been demonstrated at all to date, is the relevance of all that to spaceflight.

It is true that the next step past low-altitude, low-velocity hovering is a tough one. I think that most of the NGLLC-type teams that tried to make that transition greatly underestimated the difficulty of that next step. Once you're free-flying at high speeds, your odds of recovery if something goes wrong are a lot lower than say doing a tether test. Not something you can just twiddle the gains and try again on. So, you're right that there was a whole additional layer of complexity beyond hovering that is required for real suborbital or orbital VTVL spaceflight. Those first steps may not have been sufficient, but they were definitely relevant.

~Jon

Offline MP99

One small step for a robot, one...

(Well, it was a Lunar lander challenge.)

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Offline savuporo

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So, you're right that there was a whole additional layer of complexity beyond hovering that is required for real suborbital or orbital VTVL spaceflight. Those first steps may not have been sufficient, but they were definitely relevant.

~Jon
Yes - but you have inherent assumption here that spaceflight with rockets that have some stages that utilize VTVL configuration is possible or practical - or the skillsets and/or technology built for these hoppers can be somehow applied for rockets that will go to space. Thats implied by the word "relevant"
I am not at all convinced that any of this is going to be the case. Its still entirely possible that no VTVL rocket configuration will turn out to be practical for going to space or helping in getting to space.

IMO its entirely likely that there will be multiple other layers of complexities that will reveal itself when someone actually starts trying.

Yes, i _like to think_ that VTVL rockets will work out because they _seem_ like an elegant engineering solution, and i as an engineer like elegant solutions. But elegance is often fundamentally at odds with efficiency.
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Online meekGee

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Yes - but you have inherent assumption here that spaceflight with rockets that have some stages that utilize VTVL configuration is possible or practical - or the skillsets and/or technology built for these hoppers can be somehow applied for rockets that will go to space. Thats implied by the word "relevant"
I am not at all convinced that any of this is going to be the case. Its still entirely possible that no VTVL rocket configuration will turn out to be practical for going to space or helping in getting to space.

IMO its entirely likely that there will be multiple other layers of complexities that will reveal itself when someone actually starts trying.

Yes, i _like to think_ that VTVL rockets will work out because they _seem_ like an elegant engineering solution, and i as an engineer like elegant solutions. But elegance is often fundamentally at odds with efficiency.

You are confusing "relevant" with "financially successful".

The original post said that building a rocket "hopper" in and of itself, is irrelevant to space flight, which is first and foremost about achieving orbital velocity.  You can say the same thing about a suborbital vehicle like SpaceShipOne.

The question is simply whether the technological path extends forward to an orbital vehicle, and then it becomes relevant.

If GH was not a first stage of F9, then there'd only be a claim that it is relevant because "we plan to make a rocket out of it".  Since F9 is an existing rocket, then GH is relevant by default.

Successful or not?  VTVL is elegant, for sure.  But there are two things that will determine viability - the mass-to-orbit per launch, and the turn-around cost.  We'll find out soon enough.
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Offline Robotbeat

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Are you joking, savuporo?
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Offline beancounter

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Yes - but you have inherent assumption here that spaceflight with rockets that have some stages that utilize VTVL configuration is possible or practical - or the skillsets and/or technology built for these hoppers can be somehow applied for rockets that will go to space. Thats implied by the word "relevant"
I am not at all convinced that any of this is going to be the case. Its still entirely possible that no VTVL rocket configuration will turn out to be practical for going to space or helping in getting to space.

IMO its entirely likely that there will be multiple other layers of complexities that will reveal itself when someone actually starts trying.

Yes, i _like to think_ that VTVL rockets will work out because they _seem_ like an elegant engineering solution, and i as an engineer like elegant solutions. But elegance is often fundamentally at odds with efficiency.

You are confusing "relevant" with "financially successful".

The original post said that building a rocket "hopper" in and of itself, is irrelevant to space flight, which is first and foremost about achieving orbital velocity.  You can say the same thing about a suborbital vehicle like SpaceShipOne.

The question is simply whether the technological path extends forward to an orbital vehicle, and then it becomes relevant.

If GH was not a first stage of F9, then there'd only be a claim that it is relevant because "we plan to make a rocket out of it".  Since F9 is an existing rocket, then GH is relevant by default.

Successful or not?  VTVL is elegant, for sure.  But there are two things that will determine viability - the mass-to-orbit per launch, and the turn-around cost.  We'll find out soon enough.

Yes I agree entirely.  VTVL is elegant and if you look at it, historically rocket flight in science fiction and the movies have all used the concept.  However, in the real world you may develop the capability however if it doesn't make the business case then it's not going to happen. 
Beancounter from DownUnder

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