Author Topic: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)  (Read 326213 times)

Online Chris Bergin

Thread 9 for general discussion on SpaceX and their vehicles.

Previous threads (now over two million views for the eight SpaceX threads alone):

Thread 1:
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=19228.0

Thread 2:
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=22769.0

Thread 3:
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=24179.0

Thread 4:
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=25597.0

Thread 5:
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=28006.0

Thread 6:
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=29476.0

Thread 7:
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=30385.0

Thread 8:
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=31402.0


SpaceX news articles on this site:
Old: http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=21862.0 (links)

Then recent news articles, not linked above, as we moved to a tag group system:
All recent: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/tag/spacex/


L2 SpaceX - Now in its own dedicated all-vehicle section:
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?board=60.0


NOTE: Posts that are uncivil (which is very rare for this forum), off topic (not so rare) or just pointless will be deleted without notice.
« Last Edit: 09/01/2013 12:04 AM by Chris Bergin »

Online Galactic Penguin SST

OK I will kick off this thread with one serious issue coming from insurance companies in Germany in charge of the German SAR satellite constellation launch.

Apparently a source from the German insurance company Munich RE reported that his company and other German insurance companies refused to, um, insurance any payloads being launched on SpaceX rockets, due to SpaceX refusing to release technical details of the Falcon 9/Heavy rockets (especially with the new v1.1) - just after the engine problems on the CRS-1 flight last year. While some launch service providers have higher insurance premiums than others (e.g. Protons being higher than the Arianes), the only other LSP which received such a treatment is the Chinese CGWIC (which of course has their own national insurance companies backing up). The refusal of releasing data on the specific technical details other than "generic public data" apparently caused that company to declare that it was impossible to estimate the risks of launching on the Falcons reliably.

This employee went on giving out the example that on one case a turbopump valve failed to close on a F9 launch (CRS-2 1st scrub?), and SpaceX replaced it, but did not went on for further investigation of this being an isolated problem or not (or if they did, probably they didn't report the results to the insurance companies). This is compared with the helium pressure valve problems on the Ariane 5 (early 2010 IIRC), which Arianespace duly replaced the valves and conducted an internal audit on their supply lines.

It seems that SpaceX has suspended taking new launch contracts last month (?), and the reports on insurance companies flatly refusing insurance on all SpaceX launches is not encouraging at all, particularly with other rumors (e.g. apparently the Iridium and Orbcomm launches are not insured and the contracts contain clauses that means easy backing out) and Jim's report of NASA having little insight into the inner workings of SpaceX. While this report needs to be taken with a bowl of sea salt, surely something is boiling in Hawthorne if there are so many independent sources reporting similar problems with customer communication isn't it?  :P

Source: http://www.bernd-leitenberger.de/blog/2013/07/02/spacex-nimmt-keine-startauftrage-mehr-an/
Chinese spaceflight is a cosmic riddle wrapped in a galactic mystery inside an orbital enigma... - (not) Winston Churchill

Offline Prober

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #2 on: 09/01/2013 04:00 PM »
"OK I will kick off this thread with one serious issue coming from insurance companies in Germany in charge of the German SAR satellite constellation launch."
 
This is all the Chief Designers gamble atm.   ;D
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Offline malu5531

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #3 on: 09/01/2013 04:11 PM »
While this report needs to be taken with a bowl of sea salt, surely something is boiling in Hawthorne if there are so many independent sources reporting similar problems with customer communication isn't it?

Very interesting information and one of many signs of a new entrant doing things their way; defining their rules of the game, leaving non-adaptive entities behind, unable to monetize new business opportunity.

I.e., your example does not have to indicate something is boiling in Hawthorne. It can also indicate something is boiling in the space launch industry. What will be key for SpaceX and Musk is to have the audacity to follow this new path they've set and ignore nay sayers, as it's likely going to get worse; "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Innovator%27s_Dilemma
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disruptive_innovation

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #4 on: 09/01/2013 04:15 PM »
The nay-Sayers go away or are converted if you're successful. These things brought up aren't invalid. SpaceX needs to launch and launch successfully, at least half a dozen times a year.
Chris  Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

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Offline Jkew

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #5 on: 09/01/2013 04:17 PM »
The launch sample size is not large enough to make a statistical estimation and they do not have the additional controls to make up for that. They are making a rational decision here; whether the spacex approach turns out to be more reliable or not.

-John

Offline meekGee

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #6 on: 09/01/2013 04:38 PM »
The information is interesting, but also a tad dubious.

Main valve failed and they just shrugged and moved along?  Assuming SpaceX are blundering incompetent amateurs puts the rest of the "analysis" in a bad light.

The rest of the information is rumors.

The conclusion of "since there are SO MANY rumors, it means that bla bla", that's just a standard rumor-mongering technique.  I'm not SAYING they are in trouble, I'm just saying that rumors say they are in trouble.  yeah.

« Last Edit: 09/01/2013 04:50 PM by meekGee »
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Offline LegendCJS

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #7 on: 09/01/2013 04:48 PM »
Tracking the heritage of every bolt, right down to certificates from the company that mined the ore that it meets the tightest standards, and all the other associated activities devised over the last decades to prove that a rocket is safe before ever flying it once is in the school of thought that optimizing for performance is the most important thing.  It is no surprise that insurance companies, who are used to dealing with this mind set, are uncomfortable with SpaceX.
Remember: if we want this whole space thing to work out we have to optimize for cost!

Online AncientU

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #8 on: 09/01/2013 05:17 PM »
It seems that SpaceX has suspended taking new launch contracts last month (?), and the reports on insurance companies flatly refusing insurance on all SpaceX launches is not encouraging at all, particularly with other rumors (e.g. apparently the Iridium and Orbcomm launches are not insured and the contracts contain clauses that means easy backing out) and Jim's report of NASA having little insight into the inner workings of SpaceX. While this report needs to be taken with a bowl of sea salt, surely something is boiling in Hawthorne if there are so many independent sources reporting similar problems with customer communication isn't it?  :P


What about SARah Constallation announcement a few weeks ago? The German gov't hasn't lost confidence, it seems.  They probably didn't seek private insurance, though.
"If we shared everything [we are working on] people would think we are insane!"
-- SpaceX friend of mlindner

Offline apace

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #9 on: 09/01/2013 05:22 PM »
Source: http://www.bernd-leitenberger.de/blog/2013/07/02/spacex-nimmt-keine-startauftrage-mehr-an/

This story is fiction and not based on real facts. The story is in the satire and fiction part of Bernd's blog.

Offline LouScheffer

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #10 on: 09/01/2013 05:45 PM »
[...] It is no surprise that insurance companies, who are used to dealing with this mind set, are uncomfortable with SpaceX.
There are several aspects of SpaceX that make insurance difficult.

First, they are doing things that decrease the odds of success on the current launch, such as reserving fuel for booster recovery.  The insurance company will say "What if the second stage underperforms?  As happened a few months ago on a Delta?"  Trading off the long-term goal of cheaper launches against the current mission is not what insurance companies are about.

Second, the current model is to take great pains to make the first one work, then make sure all later ones work the same way.  This may be OK later for SpaceX, but not now.  For now they want to add legs, fiddle with propellant margins, modify the software, perhaps add more attitude control or other hardware, relaunch a previously used stage, and so on.  Let's try this and see how it works is an engineering attitude and not shared by insurance companies.

The same problem occurs with many new technologies.  I'm sure no insurance company will write a policy now for driverless cars, even with quite a bit of successful operation.

Offline IRobot

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #11 on: 09/01/2013 07:59 PM »
[...] It is no surprise that insurance companies, who are used to dealing with this mind set, are uncomfortable with SpaceX.
There are several aspects of SpaceX that make insurance difficult.

First, they are doing things that decrease the odds of success on the current launch, such as reserving fuel for booster recovery.  The insurance company will say "What if the second stage underperforms?  As happened a few months ago on a Delta?"  Trading off the long-term goal of cheaper launches against the current mission is not what insurance companies are about.

I think it is exactly the opposite. The F9R will have smaller payloads than a F9 non R. So, if there is something wrong with the first stage (for example 2-4 early engine shutdown), the stage will burn during more time and forget the recover option.

That has nothing to do with 2nd stage underperformance.

Offline joek

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #12 on: 09/01/2013 08:10 PM »
Source: http://www.bernd-leitenberger.de/blog/2013/07/02/spacex-nimmt-keine-startauftrage-mehr-an/
This story is fiction and not based on real facts. The story is in the satire and fiction part of Bernd's blog.

It doesn't appear that way judging from the author's wording or replies in the comment section.  In any case, this appears to be based on a single source, and there do not appear to be similar indications elsewhere.  E.g., insurance for Amos-6 is being brokered by Marsh USA (announced last week), and past comments by insurers have tended to be optimistic, if cautious.

Also, that Orbcomm or Iridium launches may not be insured at this time is not necessarily a significant data point.  One of them (I forget which) stated some time ago that they were foregoing insurance because the cost was equal or more than an additional launch plus spares.  Moreover, Iridium's flights won't start until mid-2015 which will also provide plenty of time and flights for F9v1.1 to prove itself (or not), not to mention that Iridium renegotiated the contract with SpaceX last August (7 flights with 10 satellites each instead of the original 8 flights with 9 satellites each), so it is not as if this would be a surprise for them.

That said, there is undoubtedly twitchiness among insurers due to F9v1.1 being a new launch vehicle.  That's the nature of the business.  Also, we're not talking about insuring, e.g., Ariane dual-manifest $500M payloads by SpaceX any time soon, so the insurance industry can deal with SpaceX in smaller bites.

Very interesting information and one of many signs of a new entrant doing things their way; defining their rules of the game, leaving non-adaptive entities behind, unable to monetize new business opportunity.

I think that is a bit overblown.  Commercial payloads will, as a rule, continue to be insured, the insurers will continue to require as much information as they feel necessary to provide insurance, and launch providers will continue to provide that information.  Again, this report is apparently based on one data point, and a weak one at that.  We have no idea what arrangements SpaceX may have made or helped broker, or arrangements and relationships between SpaceX or their customers for insurance.

There are several aspects of SpaceX that make insurance difficult.

First, they are doing things that decrease the odds of success on the current launch, such as reserving fuel for booster recovery.

I don't see that.  I would hope and expect that any "fuel for booster recovery" (or whatever) would be used only if not otherwise required to get the payload where it needs to go.  To do otherwise effectively downgrades the primary payload to a secondary.  I seriously doubt any of the primary customers on SpaceX's manifest signed up for that, or would agree to such.
« Last Edit: 09/01/2013 08:15 PM by joek »

Offline ChrisWilson68

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #13 on: 09/01/2013 08:40 PM »
In any case, this appears to be based on a single source, and there do not appear to be similar indications elsewhere.  E.g., insurance for Amos-6 is being brokered by Marsh USA (announced last week), and past comments by insurers have tended to be optimistic, if cautious.

Yeah, one anonymous employee at one insurance company isn't particularly compelling.  It's possible a German insurance company, particularly the division specializing in space launch, would have a close relationship with Ariane.  The people there might not like the idea of a brash newcomer saying Ariane is inefficient and they can do much better.  There might be cultural differences that could sour the relationship between SpaceX and that insurance company.  Perhaps the insurance company was asking for so much detail that SpaceX saw it as too much of a pain to comply and/or a threat of a leak of proprietary information that might find its way to a competitor, or be publicly leaked to damage SpaceX's reputation.  Or maybe there were several insurance companies vying for the business and SpaceX found others easier to deal with.  Or perhaps the story is entirely fictional, part of a FUD campaign against SpaceX by those close to Ariane.  There's just no way to know.  Such is the way with rumors.

The facts we know are that SpaceX has continued to announce new launch agreements at a good clip.

Offline joek

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #14 on: 09/01/2013 09:10 PM »
Yeah, one anonymous employee at one insurance company isn't particularly compelling.  ...

Not to mention that AFAICT Munich RE does not engage directly in such--their primary business is reinsurance for other providers (although it has subsidiary primary providers).  Seems to be nothing here other than dubious rumors based on questionable sources that do not align with what we are hearing from the rest of the industry.  So let's move on, shall we?
« Last Edit: 09/01/2013 09:11 PM by joek »

Offline apace

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #15 on: 09/01/2013 09:32 PM »
Yeah, one anonymous employee at one insurance company isn't particularly compelling.  ...

Not to mention that AFAICT Munich RE does not engage directly in such--their primary business is reinsurance for other providers (although it has subsidiary primary providers).  Seems to be nothing here other than dubious rumors based on questionable sources that do not align with what we are hearing from the rest of the industry.  So let's move on, shall we?

Again! This blog post with the Munich RE report is not based on facts, its fiction, as like other articles from Bernd which are placed in his satire and fiction section of his blog. He has different sections, and one section is his fiction section where he puts some funny to read stuff, but the articles there are not real! I cannot believe, that someone here is taking this report for real.
« Last Edit: 09/01/2013 09:34 PM by apace »

Online pippin

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #16 on: 09/01/2013 09:44 PM »
Edit: Post removed because it turned out to be based on a fictional article in part of its discussion.
« Last Edit: 09/02/2013 08:49 AM by pippin »

Offline joek

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #17 on: 09/01/2013 10:15 PM »
3. We heard that Marsh has insured a single flight by SpaceX and that obviously Orbcomm's demosat was insured. I don't know anything about the Orbcomm flight but I find the Marsh thing to be a bit suspicious exactly in that such a big fuss was made about the insurance and especially in that only a single insurer was mentioned.

Not a "big deal", simply one example.  No, the "Marsh thing" is not unusual, anomolous, "uncommon", or a "big fuss".  Note that they are listed as the broker, not the primary or only insurer.  That you cast it in such terms or find it "suspicious" is not only incorrect, but betrays a lack of attention and ignorance as to industry practices and norms.

Offline apace

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #18 on: 09/01/2013 10:17 PM »
Yes, I know, the fact that he doesn't like SpaceX does of course make him evil and completely trust-unworthy...

Unneeded remark. I sent him an email and get back to this a soon as I have an answer from Bernd.

Online pippin

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Re: SpaceX: General Falcon and Dragon discussion (Thread 9)
« Reply #19 on: 09/01/2013 10:31 PM »
That you cast it in such terms or find it "suspicious" is not only incorrect, but betrays a lack of attention and ignorance as to industry practices and norms.

Well, I said I _find_ it suspicious and what I find suspicious or not is entirely up to me.

And WRT "industry practice and norms" (in this case "practice and norms" about launch contract announcements) not one of the other announcements I could quickly dig out mentioned the insurance provider. Not one.

Let's take Amos-4, for comparison, also launched by a provider that will surely not find it easy to insure his payloads:
http://www.amos-spacecom.com/content.cfm/view-press-release/pid/146
or the SES contracts with SpaceX:
http://www.ses.com/4233325/news/2012/12569243
No mention of insurance anywhere.

Immediately calling out "lack of attention and ignorance" as soon as somebody starts to only get close to not hyping SpaceX (after all, I didn't even criticize them) is exactly what makes this SpaceX fan-scene so dislikable. This can't be good for SpaceX.
« Last Edit: 09/01/2013 10:34 PM by pippin »

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