Author Topic: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher  (Read 10323 times)

Online FutureSpaceTourist

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ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« on: 03/04/2018 06:49 am »
Quote
Another smallsat launch co., @ablspacesystems, sheds a little stealth...
- Trailer-based launch platform
- 650kg to SSO
- Launching from AK and GA
- $17m price point
- Engines by Ursa Major
- 1st launch Q3 2020

Welcome to the small space race!

https://twitter.com/kevzag/status/969951280687808512?s=21

Ursa Major engines have their own thread: https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=41331.0

Quite a few SpaceX alumni at ABL: https://www.ablspacesystems.com/team

Offline ringsider

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Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #1 on: 03/04/2018 11:22 am »
Sucks to be Vector.

Offline Darkseraph

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Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #2 on: 03/04/2018 12:28 pm »
An exciting time for spaceflight, Vector included. Dozens of companies are emerging with the capability to develop liquid fueled rockets which is basically night and day compared to a decade ago. There appears to be a great diffusion of the knowledge and skill necessary to construct these machines. Ofcourse, many of these companies will fail but the fact that an environment exists which allows them even try in the first place is immensely positive. To advance spaceflight and drive down costs, we really need to have dozens of companies trying out different methods rather than just one or two outliers sponsored by eccentric billionaires. The current market has echos of the early days of the internet, perhaps even the early days of aviation.

What is even more remarkable about this company is that it is skipping doing all the work itself to go to market faster and can do so because there is a healthy base of other companies with the capability to build liquid rocket engines. I expect to see more examples of this in the future, especially for companies that intend to develop small RLVs faster.     
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Offline Markstark

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Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #3 on: 03/04/2018 12:37 pm »
The battle of the SpaceX veterans


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Offline Bananas_on_Mars

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Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #4 on: 03/04/2018 12:59 pm »
Sucks to be Vector.
650 kg to SSO for 17 million dollar?
Definitely not the same market Vector is targeting. More like Launcher One, or Terran 1.

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #5 on: 03/04/2018 09:10 pm »


Sucks to be Vector.
650 kg to SSO for 17 million dollar?
Definitely not the same market Vector is targeting. More like Launcher One, or Terran 1.

650kg SSO is lot from 70klb 1st stage, Electron is 150kg with 35-40klbs of thrust for 1st stage.

Online vaporcobra

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Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #6 on: 03/04/2018 09:40 pm »
It truly baffles me that an engineer intimately familiar with SpaceX - someone who led development of freaking grid fins - thought it was a reasonable idea to start an expendable rocket startup specifically intended to rely on external suppliers for all major components. In late 2017. With an estimated (probably optimistic) purchase price almost 30% that of pre-reusability discount Falcon 9. For maybe 5% of Falcon 9's reusable performance. With commercial operations expected to begin no earlier than the tail end of 2020.
https://www.shoreschool.org/page/news-detail?pk=1153770&fromId=222526

????????????????????????????????????

The smallsat launch vehicle bubble is soooo real right now. I'm sure their tech is strong, and Ursa Major seems like a great propulsion startup, but there is literally NO sane economic rationale for investing in tiny expendable rockets when Falcon 9 Block 5 is < 100 days from first flight, without even considering the potential of BFR, New Glenn, or the existence of Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab.

Edit: Oh god, the podcast is even worse. The CEO, Hanley, very literally states that a bunch of vendors with a few prime contractors (he uses the major players in the auto industry as a positive example...) is superior to vertically integrated, in-house technology development. He clearly has no awareness whatsoever of the history of aerospace or the comical failures of the contractor Matroshka doll hell most aerospace and auto companies of the past and present are obsessed with :( The vendor-prime paradigm had already all but monopolized aerospace, and the result was impossibly expensive rockets, R&D laziness, arrogance, and aggressive attempts to kill potential competitors before they could stand up.
https://audioboom.com/posts/6403192-building-rockets
« Last Edit: 03/04/2018 10:36 pm by vaporcobra »

Offline Markstark

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Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #7 on: 03/04/2018 10:30 pm »
It truly baffles me that an engineer intimately familiar with SpaceX - someone who led development of freaking grid fins - thought it was a reasonable idea to start an expendable rocket startup specifically intended to rely on external suppliers for all major components. In late 2017. With an estimated (probably optimistic) purchase price almost 30% that of pre-reusability discount Falcon 9. For maybe 5% of Falcon 9's reusable performance. With commercial operations expected to begin no earlier than the tail end of 2020.
https://www.shoreschool.org/page/news-detail?pk=1153770&fromId=222526

????????????????????????????????????

The smallsat launch vehicle bubble is soooo real right now. I'm sure their tech is strong, and Ursa Major seems like a great propulsion startup, but there is literally NO sane economic rationale for investing in tiny expendable rockets when Falcon 9 Block 5 is < 100 days from first flight, without even considering the potential of BFR.
Seems all of these small launch vehicle companies are banking heavily on potential customers being willing to pay more ($/kg) for their own launch vehicle instead of being part of a rideshare. Donít know if that will pan out but I imagine SpaceXís backlog will continue to grow and timelines for launching as a secondary payload will continue to increase (though price will likely decrease)

Offline Gliderflyer

Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #8 on: 03/04/2018 10:47 pm »


Sucks to be Vector.
650 kg to SSO for 17 million dollar?
Definitely not the same market Vector is targeting. More like Launcher One, or Terran 1.

650kg SSO is lot from 70klb 1st stage, Electron is 150kg with 35-40klbs of thrust for 1st stage.

They are both closed cycles, so they should have comparable Isp. I wonder if part of the difference is the added battery mass on Electron?
I tried it at home

Offline Bananas_on_Mars

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Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #9 on: 03/05/2018 11:50 am »
I've wondered with this company having some SpaceX veterans, how about recreating the Falcon 1 with engines reclaimed from end-of-life Falcon 9s.

The capabilities of such a rocket should be better than what they're planning, and if SpaceX is willing to sell "used" older variants, fit a 3D printed variant of the Kestrel engine for the upper stage and you should be quite price competitive. 17 million launch price will not be competitive IMO.

Offline Darkseraph

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Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #10 on: 03/05/2018 12:10 pm »
It truly baffles me that an engineer intimately familiar with SpaceX - someone who led development of freaking grid fins - thought it was a reasonable idea to start an expendable rocket startup specifically intended to rely on external suppliers for all major components. In late 2017. With an estimated (probably optimistic) purchase price almost 30% that of pre-reusability discount Falcon 9. For maybe 5% of Falcon 9's reusable performance. With commercial operations expected to begin no earlier than the tail end of 2020.
https://www.shoreschool.org/page/news-detail?pk=1153770&fromId=222526

????????????????????????????????????

The smallsat launch vehicle bubble is soooo real right now. I'm sure their tech is strong, and Ursa Major seems like a great propulsion startup, but there is literally NO sane economic rationale for investing in tiny expendable rockets when Falcon 9 Block 5 is < 100 days from first flight, without even considering the potential of BFR, New Glenn, or the existence of Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab.

Edit: Oh god, the podcast is even worse. The CEO, Hanley, very literally states that a bunch of vendors with a few prime contractors (he uses the major players in the auto industry as a positive example...) is superior to vertically integrated, in-house technology development. He clearly has no awareness whatsoever of the history of aerospace or the comical failures of the contractor Matroshka doll hell most aerospace and auto companies of the past and present are obsessed with :( The vendor-prime paradigm had already all but monopolized aerospace, and the result was impossibly expensive rockets, R&D laziness, arrogance, and aggressive attempts to kill potential competitors before they could stand up.
https://audioboom.com/posts/6403192-building-rockets

It may well be the case what SpaceX says or does is not gospel and total vertical integration may well not be the right strategy for every single company in the industry. For a startup, VI obviously means internalizing a lot of lengthy development and manufacturing expenses upfront, which is kind of okay if your benefactor is super wealthy like Musk or Bezos. They could afford to burn through a relatively large pile of money for engine development and facilities early on and spend years being "cashflow positive". Some cicumstances may well warrant buying parts commercially and "off the shelf" rather than reinventing the wheel. Different companies do try different strategies depending on their circumstances. Having actually worked for SpaceX, Hanley may have more insight into the successes and failures of their model from an insider perspective. Of course his assumptions in the end could turn out wrong but I would seriously pause before assuming this guy is a total idiot or that I know better.
"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled." R.P.Feynman

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #11 on: 03/05/2018 12:52 pm »
SpaceX didnít start out vertically integrated. If you read early articles in the Falcon 1 days, SpaceX was outsourcing almost everything. Turbo pump from Barber Nichols, garage door opener actuators (super early days), COTS electronics, vehicle body made by some outfit in Wisconsin.

The only thing different from then to now is metal 3D printing (which is still expensive, but everyone is using it because itís super cheap to get started).

Itís hard to keep track of all the smallsat companies with nearly identical rockets.
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Offline gin455res

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Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #12 on: 03/05/2018 05:29 pm »
It truly baffles me that an engineer intimately familiar with SpaceX - someone who led development of freaking grid fins - thought it was a reasonable idea to start an expendable rocket startup specifically intended to rely on external suppliers for all major components. In late 2017. With an estimated (probably optimistic) purchase price almost 30% that of pre-reusability discount Falcon 9. For maybe 5% of Falcon 9's reusable performance. With commercial operations expected to begin no earlier than the tail end of 2020.
https://www.shoreschool.org/page/news-detail?pk=1153770&fromId=222526

 ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ???

The smallsat launch vehicle bubble is soooo real right now. I'm sure their tech is strong, and Ursa Major seems like a great propulsion startup, but there is literally NO sane economic rationale for investing in tiny expendable rockets when Falcon 9 Block 5 is < 100 days from first flight, without even considering the potential of BFR, New Glenn, or the existence of Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab.

Edit: Oh god, the podcast is even worse. The CEO, Hanley, very literally states that a bunch of vendors with a few prime contractors (he uses the major players in the auto industry as a positive example...) is superior to vertically integrated, in-house technology development. He clearly has no awareness whatsoever of the history of aerospace or the comical failures of the contractor Matroshka doll hell most aerospace and auto companies of the past and present are obsessed with :( The vendor-prime paradigm had already all but monopolized aerospace, and the result was impossibly expensive rockets, R&D laziness, arrogance, and aggressive attempts to kill potential competitors before they could stand up.
https://audioboom.com/posts/6403192-building-rockets

This does seem strange.

However, maybe they are starting small like falcon 1.

The engine is about 1/6-1/7th the thrust of a merlin.  If they built a 35-engined re-useable booster, it would have about Falcon 5/6 level thrust.

And the same engine could be used on the second (and possibly 3rd) stage(s).

Might this arrangement allow for a (re-useable) suborbital 2nd stage with a gentler re-entry; and a smaller third stage with better mass fraction for higher energy  orbits? 

Offline deruch

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Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #13 on: 03/05/2018 05:51 pm »
The only thing different from then to now is metal 3D printing (which is still expensive, but everyone is using it because itís super cheap to get started).

Also, SpaceX has put all aerospace manufacturers on notice that some customers are willing to try to build it themselves if your prices/terms seem unreasonable to them.  I don't know how that is playing out for other buyers in the same markets, though.
Shouldn't reality posts be in "Advanced concepts"?  --Nomadd

Online john smith 19

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Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #14 on: 03/05/2018 07:25 pm »
Seems all of these small launch vehicle companies are banking heavily on potential customers being willing to pay more ($/kg) for their own launch vehicle instead of being part of a rideshare. Donít know if that will pan out but I imagine SpaceXís backlog will continue to grow and timelines for launching as a secondary payload will continue to increase (though price will likely decrease)
Correct.

This is the thinking behind the original Pegasus. Convenience and "Primary payload" status Vs (AFAIK) the highest $/lb cost in the industry.

There was a similar bunch of small sat LV starts ups around on the back of the first generation of LEO/MEO constellations. The only one that comes to mind that survived that last time was XCOR. They may have been others.

Here's the thing. When an industry is in "startup" mode highly (or fully) vertically integrated IE you make everything in house, let's you innovate fast, control IP (and hence restrict competition)

This was Ford Motor Co under Henry Ford, right back to mining ore.

As industries mature you get "specialization" as different companies are set up to pursue specific tasks (bodies, engine blocks, fuel pumps, carburetors, spark plugs etc).

As it matures further a process of re-consolidation starts, typically with clusters of sub contractors or third tier suppliers starting to be bought up.

So the question is "Is the launch industry still in "startup" mode, or is it "mature"?" ULA think it's mature, SX feels it is not.
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Offline Ronsmytheiii

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Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #15 on: 03/05/2018 08:31 pm »
It truly baffles me that an engineer intimately familiar with SpaceX - someone who led development of freaking grid fins - thought it was a reasonable idea to start an expendable rocket startup specifically intended to rely on external suppliers for all major components.

So it is important to note that we still dont know with all the sunk costs if reusability as been paid off by SpaceX, and even if it did it is still a LOT of upfront money, time, and engineering manpower. Considering ABL's smallsat market, probably not worth the upfront costs right now. How they are going about developing their LV is pretty much what SpaceX did with Falcon 1, a large percentage of the rocket came from outside industries. And speaking of Falcon 1, SpaceX managed to slice a HUGE portion of the LV costs using this method.

ABL doesn't have to compete with the large Falcon 9, all it has to do is be the cheapest, most reliable small sat launcher to grab the smallsats that want to dictate their own orbit.
« Last Edit: 03/05/2018 08:32 pm by Ronsmytheiii »

Offline Patchouli

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Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #16 on: 03/05/2018 09:08 pm »

Seems all of these small launch vehicle companies are banking heavily on potential customers being willing to pay more ($/kg) for their own launch vehicle instead of being part of a rideshare. Don’t know if that will pan out but I imagine SpaceX’s backlog will continue to grow and timelines for launching as a secondary payload will continue to increase (though price will likely decrease)

If a small payload has to co-manifest it often needs to either wait for a mission that will allow it to be dropped off in the orbit needed or make due with a compromise orbit as the primary payload needs take precedence.

Even if the upper stage has propellant left over it may not have enough restarts to both get the secondary payload where it needs to be and perform a disposal burn.


« Last Edit: 03/05/2018 09:20 pm by Patchouli »

Online vaporcobra

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Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #17 on: 03/05/2018 09:47 pm »
It truly baffles me that an engineer intimately familiar with SpaceX - someone who led development of freaking grid fins - thought it was a reasonable idea to start an expendable rocket startup specifically intended to rely on external suppliers for all major components.

So it is important to note that we still dont know with all the sunk costs if reusability as been paid off by SpaceX, and even if it did it is still a LOT of upfront money, time, and engineering manpower. Considering ABL's smallsat market, probably not worth the upfront costs right now. How they are going about developing their LV is pretty much what SpaceX did with Falcon 1, a large percentage of the rocket came from outside industries. And speaking of Falcon 1, SpaceX managed to slice a HUGE portion of the LV costs using this method.

ABL doesn't have to compete with the large Falcon 9, all it has to do is be the cheapest, most reliable small sat launcher to grab the smallsats that want to dictate their own orbit.

The problem is that $17m per launch is by no means cheap. 650kg to a 500km SSO is 3-4x what Electron and LauncherOne are capable of, but Electron is already flying, and LauncherOne is probably less than a year away from its first launch.

There's just nothing particularly novel with ABL's strategy, and the only unique aspect of their vehicle is lifting capacity. Electron is weeks away from commercial operations. Vector is years closer to realizing a "zero fixed infrastructure" approach with what appears to be a largely subcontracted launch vehicle. Virgin Orbit is doing air-launch. Relativity Space is building custom additive manufacturing capabilities to manufacture an array of LV components, and has conducted 90+ tests of an almost entirely 3D printed, 90kN methalox engine. EXOS is trying to do reusable suborbital nanolaunchers.

It's just a REALLY saturated field/market at this point. ABL's claim to fame is... a "very reliable" rocket that can maybe sit in a warehouse for years (??), is aiming for first launch in 2021, and is 100% expendable. A multi-ignition upper stage is perhaps the only real draw. My point isn't really to insult their effort or their preliminary strategy of subcontracting subassemblies over in-house engineering - to some extent it is a useful way to begin as a rocket startup. It's just far too late and not in any way competitive alongside a flood of identical, superior, or far more mature rocket startups, many who have in fact succeeded in grabbing VC while preserving cultures that prefer in-house work.

If ABL had an operational LV in 2019, they may have had a real niche. But with first launches NET ~2021, it's dead on arrival or at least a bad way to spend time and money.

Offline GWH

Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #18 on: 03/05/2018 09:58 pm »
It truly baffles me that an engineer intimately familiar with SpaceX - someone who led development of freaking grid fins - thought it was a reasonable idea to start an expendable rocket startup specifically intended to rely on external suppliers for all major components.

There is more SpaceX alumni there besides him, which I think makes it more intriguing:
https://www.ablspacesystems.com/team

As it matures further a process of re-consolidation starts, typically with clusters of sub contractors or third tier suppliers starting to be bought up.

So the question is "Is the launch industry still in "startup" mode, or is it "mature"?" ULA think it's mature, SX feels it is not.

Maybe a combination of both? Mature in the companies with their roots in military aerospace but a startup for those focusing on the commercial market place. Both market verticals have very different needs.

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: ABL Space Systems RS1 smallsat launcher
« Reply #19 on: 03/05/2018 10:42 pm »
It truly baffles me that an engineer intimately familiar with SpaceX - someone who led development of freaking grid fins - thought it was a reasonable idea to start an expendable rocket startup specifically intended to rely on external suppliers for all major components.

So it is important to note that we still dont know with all the sunk costs if reusability as been paid off by SpaceX, and even if it did it is still a LOT of upfront money, time, and engineering manpower. Considering ABL's smallsat market, probably not worth the upfront costs right now. How they are going about developing their LV is pretty much what SpaceX did with Falcon 1, a large percentage of the rocket came from outside industries. And speaking of Falcon 1, SpaceX managed to slice a HUGE portion of the LV costs using this method.

ABL doesn't have to compete with the large Falcon 9, all it has to do is be the cheapest, most reliable small sat launcher to grab the smallsats that want to dictate their own orbit.

The problem is that $17m per launch is by no means cheap. 650kg to a 500km SSO is 3-4x what Electron and LauncherOne are capable of, but Electron is already flying, and LauncherOne is probably less than a year away from its first launch.

There's just nothing particularly novel with ABL's strategy, and the only unique aspect of their vehicle is lifting capacity. Electron is weeks away from commercial operations. Vector is years closer to realizing a "zero fixed infrastructure" approach with what appears to be a largely subcontracted launch vehicle. Virgin Orbit is doing air-launch. Relativity Space is building custom additive manufacturing capabilities to manufacture an array of LV components, and has conducted 90+ tests of an almost entirely 3D printed, 90kN methalox engine. EXOS is trying to do reusable suborbital nanolaunchers.

It's just a REALLY saturated field/market at this point. ABL's claim to fame is... a "very reliable" rocket that can maybe sit in a warehouse for years (??), is aiming for first launch in 2021, and is 100% expendable. A multi-ignition upper stage is perhaps the only real draw. My point isn't really to insult their effort or their preliminary strategy of subcontracting subassemblies over in-house engineering - to some extent it is a useful way to begin as a rocket startup. It's just far too late and not in any way competitive alongside a flood of identical, superior, or far more mature rocket startups, many who have in fact succeeded in grabbing VC while preserving cultures that prefer in-house work.

If ABL had an operational LV in 2019, they may have had a real niche. But with first launches NET ~2021, it's dead on arrival or at least a bad way to spend time and money.
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