Author Topic: Falcon 9 Reusable First Stage Effect on Sounding Rocket Market  (Read 10989 times)

Offline SpacexULA

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Much was made among our space enthusiasts (including myself) about the market for a rapidly reusable/recoverable suborbital platforms like Masten Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace.

My questions are:

If SpaceX manages to recover the first stage, are they likely to sell suborbital secondary payload slots on the first stage like they sell secondary payload slots on their second stage?

How is the flight profile of an Up! Aerospace suborbital launch different from the path of the Falcon 9 first stage?  Does the SpaceLoft XL have any advantages over the first stage of a Falcon 9 in the market?

Do you think there would be a market beyond the normal suborbital market for payloads to do the round trip on the Falcon 9 first stage?
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Offline Lars_J

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Commercial suborbital providers try to maximize the microgravity exposure... That is not the primary goal of a reusable first stage, which is: getting back to the ground with minimal delta-V. Those payloads would also have to endure some significant G forces.
« Last Edit: 11/03/2013 08:54 PM by Lars_J »

Offline Jason1701

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I wonder how high the first stage could get if it flew mostly straight up, with a small payload. Probably extremely high!

Online Joffan

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Commercial suborbital providers try to maximize the microgravity exposure... That is not the primary goal of a reusable first stage, which is: getting back to the ground with minimal delta-V. Those payloads would also have to endure some significant G forces.

Well, the Falcon-9 flight profile could be modified to reduce G-loads on the cargo, perhaps even to the point where not all the engines were used. But you could certainly put some hefty payloads on a longish microgravity trip.

Note, incidentally,  that in my view the primary goal of the reusable first stage is earning money, delta-V being only a mechanism within that. If there's a way to have it fly a suborbital payload and return while making enough money to make a decent profit, I wouldn't expect SpaceX to walk away unless a competing project made better use of resources (ie. more profit). Currently of course pad availablility is quite a big consideration, although not so much at Vandenburg.

Perhaps a good prospect for a sounding rocket type mission would be the first reflight of a Flacon-9 recovered stage.
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Offline beancounter

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Commercial suborbital providers try to maximize the microgravity exposure... That is not the primary goal of a reusable first stage, which is: getting back to the ground with minimal delta-V. Those payloads would also have to endure some significant G forces.

Well, the Falcon-9 flight profile could be modified to reduce G-loads on the cargo, perhaps even to the point where not all the engines were used. But you could certainly put some hefty payloads on a longish microgravity trip.

Note, incidentally,  that in my view the primary goal of the reusable first stage is earning money, delta-V being only a mechanism within that. If there's a way to have it fly a suborbital payload and return while making enough money to make a decent profit, I wouldn't expect SpaceX to walk away unless a competing project made better use of resources (ie. more profit). Currently of course pad availablility is quite a big consideration, although not so much at Vandenburg.

Perhaps a good prospect for a sounding rocket type mission would be the first reflight of a Flacon-9 recovered stage.

No I can't believe that SpaceX would be the least bit interested in sub-orbital business.  Their game is orbital and beo.  They wouldn't consider it for an instant since the drive behind the business is to fund Elon's dream to retire on Mars or at least to get there.  Sub-orbital - bah!!  ;)
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Offline douglas100

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If you were flying a suborbital payload on a normal launch you would not let it compromise the payload inside the fairing in any way. So I think modifying the ascent trajectory for the benefit of the suborbital payload is a non starter. (Tail wagging the dog again. :) ) But if there are customers with small payloads who want a ride on the first stage of an operational flight, why not? (As long as the payload is small and doesn't compromise margins.)

As far as flying a dedicated first stage straight up, that's more or less what the Grasshopper follow-on is suppose to do anyway. There might be a market for flying suborbital payloads on it. But as a sounding rocket only, it seems a bit big!
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Offline Jcc

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I don't know how much sounding rockets cost, probably they vary a lot with the size of the payload and intended trajectory. Certainly they are a lot cheaper than a F9. The amount of revenue Spacex could get from such a payload won't be huge, but would be a nice bonus.

The main issue is that the sounding payload will need to be designed differently that it would on an expendable rocket, the science mission may need to be different, but it will have a unique advantage in that you get it back afterwards. Imagine things like sampling the atmosphere every kilometer during ascent and/or descent, then you get to analyze all those samples in a lab. Or, expensive monitoring equipment that you get to fly on multiple missions, instead of once. Yes, there are possibilities.

Offline Jimmy Murdok

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I wonder how high the first stage could get if it flew mostly straight up, with a small payload. Probably extremely high!

I think the answer will come at some point with the new grasshopper with 3 engines, that can also be a great candidate for suborbital flights with recovery.

Online Elmar Moelzer

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I was thinking about the possibility to use F9R first stages that are nearing the end of their projected service life for suborbital launches instead of orbital ones. They could remove some of the engines and essentially turn them into something like Grasshopper2 (F9R1).

Offline douglas100

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Perfectly doable technically, I suppose. It's all down to whether there's a market for very large suborbital payloads. As I said above, it very large vehicle for this kind of thing. I personally doubt they'll fly it as a sounding rocket only. They've got too much else to do.

Masten's Xaero is designed to do a similar kind of thing on a small scale. Also Lynx. I think there might be a viable suborbital payload market for smaller vehicles.
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Online Elmar Moelzer

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Well, the question is what else they would do with older stages. They could keep flying them to orbit until they break, of course, but that might not be the best idea if you want to promote the "reliability" of your reusable rockets. You will still want to keep them flying though, in order to test the limits. So why not take suborbital payloads (if there are any of the size) and make some money of the whole thing?
Plus it could be quite a spectacle.
You are right about the size of the payloads. Maybe one could put an old Dragon capsule on top (to give an abort capability)?

Offline douglas100

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Well, the question is what else they would do with older stages...

Scrap them, of course.  :)
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Online Elmar Moelzer

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Scrap them, of course.  :)
I guess that is an option ;)

Offline Jim

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Well, the question is what else they would do with older stages.

Fly them as expendable for performance driven missions

Online Joffan

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I should add a comment on the opening post title: "Falcon 9 Reusable First Stage Effect on Sounding Rocket Market"

Falcon 9 will never have any effect on the existing sounding rocket market, because it will never compete with the small-payload market. The only potential effect would be to expand the range of suborbital payloads, if SpaceX decide that's something they can make money at without interfering with their orbital work. Perhaps the option of recovery of the sounding payload onboard the Falcon would be attractive if that could be managed - saving payload weight and complexity associated with recovery.

The Black Brant is a workhorse sounding rocket http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Brant_(rocket) which at the top of the range offers payloads of 110kg-410kg up to 1500km altitude. Rocket cost is under $1m as I understand it; launchpad costs presumably extra.
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Online Elmar Moelzer

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Fly them as expendable for performance driven missions
Good point! This is probably what would happen to most of these stages.

Offline john smith 19

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A few points.

Anyone bothered about the g loads on a secondary payload on an F9 of FH shouldn't be. Sounding rocket payloads pull much higher g's. Think 10-20g. They burn (relatively) short but hard. They also tend to have high vibration (the first anti vibration mountings were developed to fly payloads on converted USAF ICBM stages because of the vibration).  If your payload was built to survive an SR flight I doubt there's much an F9 or FH could do.

But as others pointed out why?.

I think (like Stratolaunch) it fails the how-does-this-help-Elon-get-to-Mars question. That's a pretty big hurdle.  :(

OTOH Spacex might look at a lower size, lower cost SSTO launcher as long as it was a stock F9 1st stage in size and engines without recovery TPS or landing gear.

Essentially it broadens the Spacex product range at (in principal) little or no cost. Musk talks of the F9 Heavy, this would be the F9 Light (F9L?). Same core hardware, just a different "options package."

The upside is it uses exactly the same stage and engines as the F9 1st stage so it inherits the reliability record.

So no I don't think they will do an SR option and TBH I'm not really convinced they'd do the SSTO. It (in theory) makes business sense (provided they can keep the costs down, which the flight rate and the bulk buys help with) but I don't really see how it meets Musk's key question.  :(
« Last Edit: 11/06/2013 06:24 AM by john smith 19 »
BFS. The worlds first Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP structured A380 sized aerospaceplane tail sitter capable of flying in Earth and Mars atmospheres. BFR. The worlds biggest Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP structured booster for BFS. First flight to Mars by end of 2022. Forward looking statements. T&C apply. Believe no one. Run your own numbers. So, you are going to Mars to start a better life? Picture it in your mind. Now say what it is out loud.

Offline CuddlyRocket

It (in theory) makes business sense (provided they can keep the costs down, which the flight rate and the bulk buys help with) but I don't really see how it meets Musk's key question.  :(

Same reason they sell baseball caps and t-shirts: income and profit, and the latter definitely helps towards Elon's goals. :)

So, providing it can be done at a profit, and doesn't actively hinder their other objectives (by diverting scarce financial and staff resources, perhaps), then why not?

Perhaps best done by another company? Presumably simply manufacturing already designed and tooled for components for cost+ shouldn't be much of a problem for SpaceX.

Offline john smith 19

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Same reason they sell baseball caps and t-shirts: income and profit, and the latter definitely helps towards Elon's goals. :)

So, providing it can be done at a profit, and doesn't actively hinder their other objectives (by diverting scarce financial and staff resources, perhaps), then why not?
Well while I'd expect it to be exactly the same design minus a few bits it would still need a shroud and it is being operated in a wholly new way so they'd need test flights. Those take time to organize and analyze the results of.
Quote

Perhaps best done by another company? Presumably simply manufacturing already designed and tooled for components for cost+ shouldn't be much of a problem for SpaceX.
No. The whole point is to use spare capacity in their existing mfg plant. It also simplifies traceability of parts if they use exactly the same supply and mfg chain as their F9 and F9H vehicles. It's all about leveraging their development history as far as possible.

Note this remains rampant speculation. It is not even confirmed the F9 1st stage is big enough to carry all the propellant needed to reach orbit. That's important. The whole idea is pointless if you have to create new tankage to deal with this payload size. You're back to the whole development cycle, rather than mostly a shift in operations.  :( .

If it is this offers an interesting corner of the payload/performance envelope that Spacex could explore and exploit fairly cheaply. But I'll leave that to people who watch Spacex much more closely than I do.  :)

[edit. Reading the linked page further and apply the same approximation gives an average Isp of 301.secs]
« Last Edit: 11/11/2013 10:21 PM by john smith 19 »
BFS. The worlds first Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP structured A380 sized aerospaceplane tail sitter capable of flying in Earth and Mars atmospheres. BFR. The worlds biggest Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP structured booster for BFS. First flight to Mars by end of 2022. Forward looking statements. T&C apply. Believe no one. Run your own numbers. So, you are going to Mars to start a better life? Picture it in your mind. Now say what it is out loud.

Online aero

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Using the rocket equation and numbers from http://www.spacelaunchreport.com/falcon9.html I calculate that Stage 1 alone is capable of somewhere between 7.6 and 8.4 km/sec delta-V depending on the Isp actually achieved. That does not include any payload. The low number uses sea level Isp and the high number uses vacuum Isp so the actual result would be somewhere in between.

Its a little chancy to assume that S1 alone could achieve orbit, but of course it could go very high.
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