USAF Confirms SpaceX Awaiting FAA Approval for Booster Landing at Cape for Return to Flight

The USAF 45th Space Wing confirmed to AmericaSpace today that SpaceX is in fact seeking FAA approval to land their Falcon-9 booster on solid ground at Cape Canaveral for their Return to Flight mission, which is expected to fly very soon. SpaceX has refused to comment on anything regarding Return to Flight or an attempted landing at Cape Canaveral. Photo: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace
The USAF 45th Space Wing confirmed to AmericaSpace today that SpaceX is in fact seeking FAA approval to land their Falcon-9 booster on solid ground at Cape Canaveral for their Return to Flight mission, which is expected to fly very soon. SpaceX has refused to comment on anything regarding Return to Flight or an attempted landing at Cape Canaveral. Photo: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

Six months after its 19th mission ended in catastrophe, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster is set for a long-awaited Return to Flight (RTF), no sooner than Tuesday, 15 December, carrying no fewer than 11 Orbcomm Generation-2 (OG-2) communications satellites into low-Earth orbit. According to sources within Orbcomm and the Air Force, a request for Eastern Range approval was granted, with a backup opportunity on the 16th.

As well as transporting the largest number of discrete satellites into orbit aboard a single SpaceX vehicle, the mission is expected to mark the maiden voyage of the “Full Thrust” (FT) variant of the Falcon 9 booster, also known informally as the “v1.2”. A successful flight in mid-December will open the floodgates for an ambitious 2016, which is expected to kick off with the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS)-8 Dragon cargo flight to the International Space Station (ISS) in the first week of January.

Falcon 9 first stage approaches Just Read the Instructions in the Atlantic Ocean after successfully launching CRS-6 to the International Space Station, April 14, 2015 Photo Credit: SpaceX/Ben Cooper
Falcon 9 first stage approaches Just Read the Instructions in the Atlantic Ocean after successfully launching CRS-6 to the International Space Station, April 14, 2015 Photo Credit: SpaceX/Ben Cooper

Although information remains scarce, comments from the Air Force today confirm that SpaceX is pressing ahead with its plans to land the Falcon-9 RTF Orbcomm first-stage booster on solid ground, rather than aboard the deck of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) in the Atlantic Ocean. Earlier this year, Air Force Brig. Gen. Nina Armagno, commander of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, signed a five-year lease with SpaceX to create a “Landing Pad” at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s historic Launch Complex (LC)-13. Utilized for Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) tests and operational Atlas launches from August 1958 through April 1978, LC-13 was deactivated in 1980. More than three decades passed before SpaceX leased it in February 2015 and efforts to construct five landing pads for its returning Falcon 9 first-stage hardware got underway. The site is now designated “Landing Complex-1”.

“One thing that is true in recent news is that SpaceX is waiting on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval for both return to flight and doing a land landing vs. drone ship,” explained Chrissy Cuttita, operations chief of 45th Space Wing Public Affairs, based at Patrick Air Force Base, in response to an inquiry from Zero-G News’ Managing Editor Matthew Travis, who shared the information with AmericaSpace this afternoon.

Media visiting pad 39A Dec. 1 were greeted by NASA Commercial Crew Program representatives, who hinted to the possibility in the first place. However, the USAF was not able to confirm anything until this afternoon, nor was a SpaceX spokesperson present to address journalists at their own launch pad.

UPDATE: On Dec. 3 a SpaceX spokesperson contacted AmericaSpace stating that they are hoping to have more info to provide in the coming days.

The news comes just a week after Blue Origin successfully launched and landed their own rocket in west Texas, which reached an altitude of 329,839 ft. (100.5 km) before returning to Earth, making Blue Origin’s New Shepard system the first launch vehicle to successfully reach space and return for a soft landing on terra firma.
Operations are also ongoing to support a landing attempt for SpaceX’s Orbcomm booster on their autonomous barge, just in case the FAA does not grant a landing attempt at the Cape in time for their launch date.

Contrary to earlier suggestions that the SES-9 communications satellite—destined for delivery into Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) on behalf of the Luxembourg-based SES satellite services provider—would likely fly aboard the Falcon 9 Return to Flight (RTF) mission, it has become clear in recent weeks that 11 small Orbcomm Generation-2 (OG-2) communications satellites will instead form the primary payload. This will bring up to 18 the total number of OG-2 satellites launched, six of which were carried aloft by a Falcon 9 booster in July 2014 and one of which failed to achieve orbit, due to a second-stage thrust shortfall in October 2012. All satellites are operated by Orbcomm, Inc., a major Machine-to-Machine (M2M) messaging-services provider, headquartered in Rochelle Park, N.J.

Built by Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) of Sparks, Nev., each three-axis-stabilized OG-2 satellite weighs 380 pounds (172 kg) and, when fully deployed in orbit, measures 42.7 feet (13 meters) x 3.3 feet (1 meter) x 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) and generates about 400 watts of electrical power. Based upon the SN-100 spacecraft “bus”, they are designed for minimum five-year operational lifetimes and utilize a modular payload deck which can be rapidly integrated and tested.

They are the current generation of a series which has seen 53 Orbcomms launched since July 1991, aboard a variety of rockets, including Europe’s Ariane 4, the air-launched Pegasus booster, Orbital Sciences’ Taurus, China’s Long March 4B, India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and Russia’s Cosmos-3M. Initial “Concept Demonstration Satellites” led to the OG-1 network and a replenishment series of “Quick Launch” missions, with OG-2 intended to supplement and ultimately replace the first generation. “Due to their high efficiency and modular design, these satellites have substantially more capacity to service a larger number of subscribers, thus making the network more efficient with few satellites than the OG-1 satellites that are currently in orbit,” explained Pat Remias, SNC’s Space Systems senior director of programs, speaking before the July 2014 mission. “SNC has established a satellite production line in our Louisville facility to integrate and test each vehicle rapidly, with up to six satellites processing simultaneously.”

One of the ORBCOMM OG-2 satellite preparing for testing ahead of launch. Photo Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
One of the ORBCOMM OG-2 satellite preparing for testing ahead of launch. Photo Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

In May 2008, Orbcomm signed a $117 million contract with SNC to build 18 OG-2 satellites, with an option to purchase up to 30 more, in order to augment its existing on-orbit infrastructure. “Orbcomm anticipates selecting the launch vehicle within 12 months,” it was noted, “and plans to launch the 18 OG-2 satellites in three separate missions of six satellites each between 2010 and 2011.” Added flexibility was provided by SNC’s unique mechanical configuration, which enabled multiple satellites to be packaged efficiently into several different types of launch vehicle. At length, in September 2009, Orbcomm selected SpaceX’s Falcon 1e launch vehicle to deliver the 18 satellites into low-Earth orbit, from “as early as the fourth quarter of 2010 through 2014”.

However, schedule slippages pushed this plan increasingly to the right and the Falcon 1e was eventually withdrawn from the market, before it had even flown a single mission, due to limited demand for its services. Payloads originally earmarked for the Falcon 1e were remanifested to exploit excess capacity aboard the more powerful Falcon 9 v1.0 and the first “prototype” OG-2 satellite was launched from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., in October 2012, riding “piggyback” alongside SpaceX’s first dedicated Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Unfortunately, an upper stage thrust shortfall in one of the Falcon 9’s cluster of Merlin 1C engines caused the OG-2 to be inserted into a low orbit of just 125 x 200 miles (200 x 320 km), instead of the intended 220 x 470 miles (350 x 750 km). Although the small satellite was successfully deployed from the second stage of the Falcon 9 v1.0, it quickly became apparent that the orbit was “unworkable” and it re-entered the atmosphere to destruction a couple of days later.

The first Falcon-9 Orbcomm mission awaiting launch in 2014. Photo Credit: John Studwell
The first Falcon-9 Orbcomm mission awaiting launch in 2014. Photo Credit: John Studwell

The next batch of six OG-2 satellites were delivered to the Cape in April 2014 and, after multiple launch delays, were successfully boosted into orbit atop an uprated Falcon 9 v1.1 on 14 July. Planning called for the remaining satellites to be lofted in the fall of the following year, but the loss of a Falcon 9 v1.1 during first-stage flight on 28 June 2015 imposed a hiatus as SpaceX sought to discover what had caused the accident. At length, on 16 October, Orbcomm announced that all 11 satellites would fly aboard the upgraded variant of the Falcon 9—variously identified as the “Falcon 9 v1.2” or “Falcon 9 Full Thrust (FT)”, as detailed in a previous AmericaSpace article—on the Return to Flight (RTF) mission.

Targeted to take place approximately “in the next six to eight weeks”, the Eastern Range has since conferred approval on SpaceX for an opening launch attempt from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on 15 December, with a backup opportunity on the 16th. “We are excited to launch our 11 OG-2 satellites aboard SpaceX’s newly upgraded Falcon 9 rocket and have full confidence in SpaceX and their dedication to this launch,” said Orbcomm CEO Marc Eisenberg. “We look forward to completing the deployment of our next-generation constellation and delivering a higher level of performance, coverage and reliability through our modernized and upgraded OG-2 network to our customers around the world.” More recently, SNC confirmed that all 11 satellites completed their Pre-Ship Review in mid-October and were subsequently delivered to the Cape for final checkout and integration aboard the Falcon 9 v1.2/FT.

Flying for the first time with its 11 OG-2 passengers, the upgraded booster will see its first-stage Merlin 1D+ and second-stage Merlin 1D+ Vacuum engines running at their full, 100-percent power level. This is in contrast to the 80 percent of rated performance seen on previous Falcon 9 v1.1 missions. A further 13 percent of additional performance will be accrued through a range of structural enhancements to the vehicle’s airframe and a process of “densifying” and thereby increasing the liquid oxygen propelland load. All told, this is expected to yield a performance “gain” of 33 percent over the v1.1.

It is understood that the v1.1 utilized the Merlin 1D engines at 80 percent of rated capacity, with 20 percent held in reserve, in order to afford maximum flexibility to the payload to achieve its correct orbital position. In contrast, the v1.2/FT architecture centers around the enhanced “Merlin 1D+” engine, which is reportedly capable of 1.53 million pounds (694,000 kg) of thrust at T-0, effectively operating at “full” (100 percent) capability. This will increase to about 1.7 million pounds (771,100 kg) as the vehicle travels higher into the rarefied upper atmosphere. Similarly, the Merlin 1D Vacuum engine of the second stage will see a corresponding increase in propulsive yield from 180,000 pounds (81,600 kg) in the v1.1 to 210,000 pounds (95,250 kg) in the v1.2/FT. According to a source close to SpaceX, “FT” is the internal code name for calculating the Merlin 1D’s output at 100 percent, adding that “this improves the Falcon 9’s performance by 20 percent, although this “improvement” was not really new: it was always there, but never utilized.” At the time of last summer’s failure, it is understood that SpaceX intended to stage its first v1.2/FT launch in July 2015, delivering SES-9 to GTO.

However, the 20-percent performance hike achieved by throttling the engines from their 80-percent to 100-percent power levels has been expanded yet further to reach an overall 33-percent “performance gain” over the v1.1. This gain has been met in part through structural enhancements to the vehicle’s airframe, including a 10-percent increase in propellant tank volumes, a lengthened second stage with extended Merlin 1D+ Vacuum engine, upgraded landing legs and grid fins, an improved “Octaweb” support structure for the first-stage engine suite, a strengthened “interstage” between the two stages and a central “pusher” to ensure a smooth stage-separation process. All told, this increases the height of the v1.2/FT vehicle to 229.6 feet (70 meters), about 5.6 feet (1.6 meters) taller than the v1.1.

Additionally, the 33-percent performance gain has been met through “super-cooling” the liquid oxygen load—in what Musk described as “deep cryo oxygen”—below its normal saturation condition, in order to increase its density and permit the carriage of a larger load of propellants in the Falcon 9’s tanks. “Propellant densification,” noted engineers Ke Nguyen and Timothy Knowles in an American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) paper, “is one of the key technologies needed to meet the challenges of future reusable launch vehicles.” The densification process, AmericaSpace understands, has required the installation of specialized cooling stations at SpaceX’s dedicated Falcon 9 pads of Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at the Cape and Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.


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Missions » Commercial Space » ORBCOMM » Missions » Commercial Space » ORBCOMM » SpaceX OG2 M1 » Missions » Commercial Space » ORBCOMM » SpaceX OG2 M2 »


  1. “Additionally, the 33-percent performance gain has been met through “super-cooling” the liquid oxygen load-”

    Typical SpaceX marketing hype. Nothing is going to increase performance by 33 percent except God. The rocket equation does not allow such radical gains. It is all smoke and mirrors.

    • We’ll see when they will launch the 5.3 tons SES-9 satellite to GTO AND try to recover the first stage. When they launched the 3.7 tons Asiasat-6 satellite to GTO in september 2014 the performance of the Falcon 9 didn’t allow them to try to recover the first stage. Yet it was a sat that weighted 30% less than SES-9! Strange, isn’t it?
      You don’t know what you’re talking about.

      • You are the one flippin whoppers “buddy” if you think “talented people” and R$D can break the laws of physics. I know your Mom and she said you need to shut up.

    • @ Conway – God has nothing to do with it. You increase performance by spending a bunch of money on Research & development and hiring talented people. Keep your moms basement clean & keep flippin whoppers buddy.

      • Derek –

        “Keep your moms basement clean & keep flippin whoppers” seem like much more useful and honest activities than trying to toss internet insults at folks that might not believe everything Mr. Elon Musk, the ‘wannabe retired Martian’, says.

        Yep, internet insults and endless empty Mars rhetoric is obviously much better than America’s government implementing its legal national beyond LEO human space program.

        Tons of beans, methane gas, and endless subservient nonscientific Mars mission and ‘Martian retirement planning’ garbage and pseudo ‘private space’ public relations nonsense is repeatedly served up as a ‘junk filled space food’ substitute instead of fully implementing the international human Lunar surface mission ‘National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 (PUBLIC LAW 111-267 OCT. 11, 2010)’ which was signed into law by the current President and is the legal basis for building the SLS launcher and Orion spacecraft.

        But why bother fully implementing America’s human Lunar mission space law when there are so many Elon Musk ‘true Mars cult believers’ spouting nasty insults on the internet to ‘politically cover up and hide’ the ongoing failure of our President to implement that space law?

        Callum Newman’s November 27, 2015 article in The Daily Reckoning Australia titled ‘Billionaires Only: The Incredible Space Investment Happening Now’ notes, “Control of the natural resource base is not negotiable.”

        Yep, “Billionaires Only” is the new “not negotiable” ‘space wisdom’ in gaining control of the Moon’s resources.

        So is Congress really going to entrust Mr. Elon Musk and some other American billionaires with deciding on and implementing their own billionaire version of our nation’s international space agreements and policies?

        And how will these new ‘billionaire space policy leaders’ decide which companies and nations will have access to the resources on the Moon?

        Will such brilliantly inane national space policy foolishness of ignoring our space law and instead relying on the narrow fiscal interests of billionaires never cease to amaze and dismay folks who “keep flippin whoppers” or do other non space related types of work?

        Do those millions of folks who are “flippin whoppers” or doing other types of non space related work have more integrity and votes than do a small group of billionaires that appear to think their narrow financial interests are much more important than following international space agreements and America’s PUBLIC LAW 111-267 OCT. 11, 2010?

        In the December 1, 2015 article ‘Google hires the guy behind Tesla’s Autopilot feature’
        the writer Trevor Mogg notes, “Elon Musk recently raised eyebrows when he commented that ‘if you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple.’ Wonder what he thinks about those that head to Google instead.”

        Is it obvious that current burger restaurant workers, and former ones like me, and technical folks are people who really aren’t ‘smart’ managers like Elon Musk who is “spending a bunch of money on Research & development and hiring talented people”, and then making childish ‘sour grapes’ comments when the “talented people” decide the grass is obviously greener and more ‘nutritious’ elsewhere?

    • “The rocket equation does not allow such radical gains.”

      While reading the full article shows that propellant densification is not the only change SpaceX is making to increase performance, I’m impressed that you’ve worked out what impact it would have, using the rocket equation.

      Please enlighten us further, and show your work.

      • No Tim, I don’t play that game.
        No peer-reviewed papers, no resumes with certified letters documenting my creds. Nope. Ask someone else to jump through hoops for you.

        I made a comment and you can take it or leave it- I don’t care which.

    • Chilling the LOX, running the Merlin 1D engines at 20% higher thrust, increasing the size of the fuel tanks in both stages, and structural improvements to reduce the dry weight of the stages, these things combined…

      • Just my opinion, but I really don’t think that will do the trick. It is hype and since they keep all the numbers secret or cook the books as they please they don’t have to worry about anyone throwing the B.S. flag on them (so why not?).

        • Your opinion is clearly wrong. You will have to reassess your beliefs and the world-view structure upon which your beliefs are built.

          Once SpaceX sticks the landing and your glass castle of misconceptions is shattered, hopefully you will have the motivation you need to do that.

          • Blue Origin has already “stuck” the landing (to use your terminology) and the payload for the launch under discussion appears small enough that the fuel reserves would be available in the (old/unimproved) Falcon 9 without any of the hypothetical improvements under discussion to attempt the retrograde maneuver.

            It is therefore questionable whether anyone would have to reassess “beliefs and the world-view structure upon which” “beliefs are built”.

            It is interesting though, John Hare was stating that SLS supporters were often “over the top” and had trouble seeming “calm and rational”. Wonder what he thinks of your comments?

            • And the DC-X stuck its landings back in 1994-96. What’s your point?

              Yes, the unimproved Falcon 9 1.1 could likely have flown back to the launch site after launching this payload as well. As has been said before, the idea is to be able to launch heavy payloads to GTO and still be able to return to the launch site.

              So what will shatter his misconceptions will probably not be the RTF, but the future flights that he (and, it seems, you) will continue to say are impossible.

              Perspective. I wonder why you don’t have it?

              • To most people perspective means evaluating current happenings/future possibilities based on past experience.

                To you perspective appears to mean evaluating current and past happenings based on what you think will happen in the future.

                Good luck with that.

                • I realize there’s a difference between what will likely happen in the near future and a company’s aspirational future goals. You seem to be unable to tell the difference.

                  • Actually I am unable to tell what you think you mean by that statement.

                    You seem to be determined to have the last word (whether or not that word makes any sense) so have it.

                    You appear to think that means you won something and I do not really care.

                    • You have asked which is correct? 100 reuses, or 40?

                      We won’t see either in the near term, so it doesn’t matter much. I hope we will see a core be reused more than 10 times within the next decade, but 40 times will probably have to wait until the next decade after that… unless there is a very dramatic increase in the launch rate, and there’s little indication that will happen at the present time.

  2. “-just in case the FAA does not grant a landing attempt at the Cape in time for their launch date.”

    That seems likely and fortunate for SpaceX. And this time of year so do the seas being too high for a successful recovery. Or it might just blow up just after Max-Q like the last time.

  3. The 11 satellites weigh (according to the article) 380 lbs. each. That is 4,180 lbs. to orbit.

    SpaceX claims the Falcon 9 (old unimproved version) can orbit 13 Metric Tons.

    Estimates of the gross mass penalty to attempt a fly back maneuver range from 30% (SpaceX) to 35% – 40% (everybody else).

    Assuming the maximum would still leave the Falcon 9 with a payload to orbit of 17,160 lbs.

    Anybody have any idea what the total mass of this payload is (payload faring, bubble wrap and all).

    I sounds as if this payload might be small enough to attempt the fly back with the old unimproved Falcon 9.

    • Joe,

      “SpaceX claims the Falcon 9 (old unimproved version) can orbit 13 Metric Tons.”

      Is that 26,000 lbs for us lay people? If so then this should be easy…Right?

      “I sounds as if this payload might be small enough to attempt the fly back with the old unimproved Falcon 9.”

      Then is the 30% performance upgrade just smoke and mirrors or a safety margin?

      • Tracy,

        “Is that 26,000 lbs for us lay people? If so then this should be easy…Right?”

        Actually it is metric Tons, so it is 28,600 lbs. (and assuming the high end mass penalty – 40% – is how you get to the 17,160 lbs.).

        “Then is the 30% performance upgrade just smoke and mirrors or a safety margin?”

        As with almost everything SpaceX they make pronouncements with few details, so it is impossible to tell. You are just supposed to trust them. Some do, some do not.

        • The proof is in the pudding, of course. The idea behind all the excess margin is to be able to launch satellites to GTO and still be able to return to the launch site to land.

          There are multiple forum threads on NSF where the capabilities of the Falcon 9 rocket are dissected in minute detail. You would probably do well to read through some of those.

          • You would probably do better to go to that site and keep reading them instead of advising others to.

          • I have seen those forums. Trouble is they are dealing with the same lack of detail everybody else is. So they speculate (albeit in great detail).

            For example:

            (1) SpaceX says the Falcon 9 has an LEO payload capability of 13 Metric Tons (28,600 lbs.)
            (2) SpaceX says the Cargo Dragon has an up mass capability to the ISS of 6 Metric Tons (13,200 lbs.), but the largest such up mass they have ever flown (on CRS-5) was 5,108 lbs.
            (3) SpaceX says (through Shotwell) that the mass penalty for the fly back maneuver is 30% of gross payload (8,580 lbs.) all of which would have to be taken from the Cargo Dragon up mass. If the actual Cargo Dragon up mass is less than 8,580 lbs. then a fly back (old unimproved) Falcon 9 would not be able to put an empty Cargo Dragon in orbit.

            SpaceX says they will increase the Falcon 9 performance by 33% by (among other things) ““super-cooling” the liquid oxygen load”.


            (1) To what temperature will they “super cool” it?
            (2) How much densification will be achieved at that temperature?
            (3) Significantly “densified” LOX has (to the best of my knowledge) never been used in any rocket engine. It is called Slush LOX and has different flow characteristics than LOX. What changes were needed to the Merlin Engines to allow it’s use?

            The only place Slush LOX (and Slush Hydrogen) have even been discussed is in notional/advanced SSTO designs.

            So last, but not least, the big questions to me are:

            (1) If SpaceX has actually mastered the use of Slush LOX why are they wasting time on the Falcon 9?
            (2) Why aren’t they working on an SSTO?

            • The Russians did cool down a special blend of kerosene when that resource was available back when but that fuel is no longer imported and they have stopped using that technique as far as I know. It added some payload but… miraculous 33 percent. As for cranking up the rocket engine thrust by 20 percent there is no free lunch. It does not follow they were de-rating the Merlin that much so they more than likely just increased their chances of an engine failing catastrophically.

              • Actually the old Soviet Union “sub-cooled” both the Kerosene and LOX for the NK-33 engines for the N-1 rocket (their Saturn 5 equivalent), but the purpose was not to increase performance; it was to help cool the engines.

                The N-1 was cancelled because it kept blowing up.

                The NK-33 was used on both the Orbital Sciences CRS launcher and the Russian Soyuz 2. Note not just the NK-33 design, but actual units produced in the 1960’s/1970’s for the N-1 program.

                The Orbital Sciences CRS launcher has been abandoned because it blew up.

                The Soyuz 2 has flown once and that was several years ago.

                It is technically true that if you further decrease the temperature of LOX even one degree it is to some degree densified, but the N-1 level was no where near enough to significantly increase performance or change the LOX flow characteristics. If SpaceX is in fact doing that, they are in really new territory and more should be made of it.

                But it is just as likely the temperature changes are being made to help cool the engines which SpaceX says will be running at higher speeds/temperatures. But, as I started out saying, because SpaceX gives no details that is all speculation in absence of real information.


                  Hope this link works for the 1970 syntin info in the book by Sutton. It says about 200 Kg extra payload. I did not know the N-1 used sub-cooled fuel. I will have to study up on that, thanks Joe.

                  • Link does not appear to work, but I guess the question is what percentage increase in payload would the 200 Kg be?

                    For what it is worth my information came from talks with Russian engineers. Have spent time in Russia working on integrating American hardware into the ISS and engineers/space fans revel in talking details when off duty.

                    If you look up the notional payload fraction to LEO for the N-1 (it never actually reached orbit) to the actual one for the Saturn 5 (which did not super cool it’s propellants) you will note that the Saturn 5 had superior performance.

                    That is a good comparison of first stage to first stage (both Kerosene/LOX engines) and was due to lighter structural mass of the Saturn 5, but the point is that any improved performance from further cooling of propellants was lost in the noise.


                      Sorry Joe, maybe this will take you to it. As I understood it from the NASA history series, the F-1 engines had a good deal to do with the lift of the Saturn V but the big trick was the second stage which Mr. Brown stated was actually the main enabler that got us to the Moon- despite his originally putting up a quite a fight against using hydrogen. Reading from a couple other sources the S-II was a real monster because while the 1st stage and third stage were already finalized the weight of the lander and other systems kept going up and it fell on the second stage to get lighter and lighter. The best account of this epic story IMO is found in “Angle of Attack” by Mike Gray.

                    • All true for the lunar mission. Without the hydrogen upper stages the Moon Program would not have worked.

                      That is the reason I noted the LEO payload fractions, which emphasize first stage performance.

                    • The point is that chilled LOX is being used on a rocket that is currently flying, which is something you have denied being the case in the past.

                      You’re welcome, you are now better informed.

                    • Jester,

                      “The point is that chilled LOX is being used on a rocket that is currently flying, which is something you have denied being the case in the past.”

                      You are entitled to your own opinions, not you own facts.

                      I did not deny the existence of the Soyuz 2-1v. I simply noted that it (and the original Orbital Sciences CRS launcher) used the same NK-33 engines developed/built for the Soviet N-1 rocket and that the NK-33 design did not chill the LOX seeking more LOX density but to help cool the engines.

                      It is also true that both the N-1 and the Orbital Sciences launcher have been abandoned due to reliability problems, while the Soyuz 2-1v has now flown a second time after a two year “rest” (first flight 28 December 2013).

                    • It helped cool the engines, but it also certainly did become more dense. Even if it’s just a side effect, it still happened. This is one reason why “cooled” “chilled” “sub-cooled” etc. and “densified” LOX are used interchangeably.

                      Also the Antares and the Soyuz 2-1v use LOX at different temperatures, even though they have the same NK-33 engine powering the rocket.

                      Soyuz 2-1v (-192°C)
                      Antares (–196°C)

                      Oxygen at -192 C = 4.80 kg/m3
                      Oxygen at -196 C = 5.05 kg/m3

                      Same engine. Two different densities of LOX.

                      Perhaps the Merlin 1D can run using two different densities of LOX as well.

                    • Jester,

                      As I have typed so many times that it risks meta carpal tunnel syndrome, nobody is arguing that LOX does not become somewhat denser as it is made cooler.

                      The questions are:

                      (1) How much would it have to be cooled to significantly improve booster performance?

                      (2) How much would that cooling effect the flow characteristics of the LOX?

                      (3) How much would the engines using such LOX have to be modified to handle those changed flow characteristics?

                      Nothing you have brought up even attempts to address those questions.

                      It is apparent that nothing anybody is going to say will get through the impenetrable wall you have erected around your thinking on the subject.

                      So I will address this to anyone else who might be interested. You may notice that an entire series of words (densified, chilled, sub-cooled, super-cooled, etc.) are being used interchangeably with out any clear definition of their meaning. This has two prominent effects:

                      (1) It makes it impossible to do any useful evaluation of what SpaceX is doing.

                      (2) It allows folks like Jester to endlessly bob and weave to keep talking until his opponent (as he sees it) tires of conversation and just gives up.

                      To Jester that means he has won.

                    • Any amount of cooling provides a boost in performance, since more fuel or oxidizer is on board to be burned. How “significant” do you think “significant” is? If you can quantify what you think is “significant” then you can calculate how much it needs to be cooled to produce your amount of “significant” improvement in performance.

                      I do not know a great deal about rocket engine design. It may be as simple as adjusting the turbopump control parameters in the computer code that runs the engine. Perhaps it isn’t, and a significant amount of engine redesign is needed. All we know for sure is that SpaceX has said they are still calling the Merlin 1D engine the Merlin 1D engine, and presumably they would iterate to the Merlin 1E if they made major modifications to its design.

                      I have not erected an impenetrable wall, and I do not see you as an opponent. I have responded to your questions with factual information. If you take this personally, that is your issue, not mine.

                      I agree that there is confusion generated with “sub-cooled” “cooled” chilled” “densified,” etc. being used interchangeably. It is unfortunate that SpaceX has not clarified with the use of the temperature they intend to chill the LOX to.

                    • I have not studied cooling, so I don’t know how much density is gained per degree or several. The 5% increase in density seems like a lot for just 4 degree colder, but I don’t speak from knowledge.

                      I have studied pumps and engines. For a given rpm, pressure and mass increases linear with density. A 5% increase in density will give 5% more fuel to the engine at 5% higher pressure though at 10% higher required power from the turbine. The increased power from the turbine requires more gas generator mass which has a considerably lower Isp than the main engine. The additional 5% pressure in the engine increases Isp though by some small fraction. At different points on the pressure and efficiency curve, the Isp can go up or down. IE, the engine could become more efficient, or less depending on details I am not likely to ever see. This is all with a given impeller at a given rpm. The 10% higher turbine power may or may not be an issue with this particular design.

                      The textbook answer for rpm effects on impellers is that mass flow increases linear with increased rpm. Pressure increases as the square of rpm increase. And power requirements increase as the cube of the rpm increase.

                      20% increase in thrust would seem to require about 15% increase in impeller rpm if the 5% denser from cooled is accurate. I get about 43% more power required for the system with those assumptions if the same impeller is used. There are several ways of getting around the power mismatch. Shave the impeller down so that the end pressure is similar to the original engine at the higher rpms. A thicker impeller to give more volume at lower rpms with denser propellant. These might require redesign of the impeller housing depending on particulars. Or run the engine at higher pressures.

                      Then into the engine. At the same pressure, a wider throat is needed and possibly more chamber volume. At higher pressures the heat flux changes as well as injector reaction.

                      None of the issues I bring up are show stoppers. They do compel a wait and see attitude.
                      If they get the performance it will be a major step.
                      If they stick the landings ” ” ”
                      If they can refurbish inexpensively ” ” ”
                      If all three, paradime shift, but until then, let’s wait and see.

                    • John,

                      Good information, Thanks.

                      I would add that at some point the denser LOX flow characteristics change which would further complicate things.

                      Cryogenics is far from my primary specialty, so I do not claim expertise. It seems 4% – 5% might be doable without creating serious flow changes, but that is just a guess and we already have too many of those.

                      That is the real problem with all of the “analysis” of what SpaceX may be doing. SpaceX uses the company proprietary label to withhold specifics of what they are doing so people end up saying things like:

                      (1) It may be as simple as ….

                      (2) Perhaps it …

                      (3) Presumably they would … etc., etc., etc.

                      I am not trying to pick on anyone, but perhaps Rainbow Colored Unicorns will fly out of – well you get the idea.

                      Too often on the internet all this speculation runs toward SpaceX making the paradigm shift you suggest may (there is that word again) happen and anyone who dares to suggest otherwise is insulted and attempts are made to howl them down.

                      As of now there are a number reasonable reservations to be had in several areas of the SpaceX approach. Blue Origin has done better in at least one of them, but (as you have probably noticed) even mention that and many supposed New Space Supporters leap to the attack defending SpaceX and only SpaceX.

                      That is not helpful to anyone (except I suppose Musk).

                    • SpaceX may very well fail at their goal of lowering launch costs with rapid reuse, that has always been a possible outcome. The reason that they have such an enthusiastic fan base is because they are at least trying for reuse when most other launch providers are not, and they are by far the furthest along in their attempt. Blue Origin’s suborbital hop and landing is a great achievement, but it’s not really comparable to what SpaceX is doing.

                      If you had questions about or made incorrect statements about the SLS, I would answer them or correct you just as I have with SpaceX related topics. There are people who think I’m a rabid SLS fan rather than a SpaceX fan because of this, lol. By the way, perhaps you should learn that when someone answers your questions or corrects your misconceptions, it’s not an attack on you.

            • An SSTO is still a difficult and questionable and expensive to develop proposition even with chilled LOX, and their business is oriented around selling Falcon 9 flights. It would be foolish for them to sit out and take ten years to try for a SSTO and face bankruptcy doing so. They can make improvements on launch costs and be a competitive LV company with refining their TSTO approach.

              Subchilled LOX isn’t slush hydrogen.

              Your logic chain is faulty, especially since it is entirely oriented around trying to schmear SpaceX. A COTS Dragon doesn’t max out the vehicle’s payload margin. The spacecraft payload limits caps its mass before LV vehicle limits are reached.

              The Dragon delivers bulky pressurized materiel so when its pressurized cargo space is full in the capsule that doesn’t mean the weight limits are maxed, only the density limits. Not every Dragon flight maxes out the weight possible to be delivered in its trunk. What Dragon flies is also predicated on what the customer wants delivered that flight.

              So there is LV margin to spare even with a largely full Dragon. As a hypothetically example, let’s say the LV can put 13 metric tonnes in orbit, but the Dragon only weighs 9 or 10 metric tonnes on those delivery missions where it is loaded with and transferring 5,108 pounds. Then the landing penalty is taken out of the surplus LV margin without impacting Dragon.

              • “since it is entirely oriented around trying to schmear SpaceX.”

                Amazing another internet mind reader, who can judge other peoples motives.

              • “Your logic chain is faulty, especially since it is entirely oriented around trying to schmear SpaceX.”

                Joe’s “logic chain” is pretty good while yours is faulty:

                “-their business is oriented around selling Falcon 9 flights-”

                Then why are they reducing their payload by trying to land back the first stage? It is a huge gamble to expect a fragile stage and no less than nine turbopump-fed regenerative-cooled engines to be reused enough times to make it worthwhile. That is bankruptcy in the making.

                The slush oxygen/hydrogen/SSTO question has to do with SpaceX expending their upper stage yet claiming reusing the first stage will lower launch costs to a ridiculously low figure. As for using a human-rated capsule to carry cargo…..that was a big mistake already made with the shuttle program. Cargo goes up and no cargo (except humans) has ever made any kind of profit coming back down.

                Associating “logic” with SpaceX is a risky proposition.

            • “If SpaceX has actually mastered the use of Slush LOX ”

              You’ve referenced this a few times, but I’ve never heard SpaceX refer to use of slush LOX. In fact you’re the first person I’ve ever heard refer to it.

              They have said the gains from densification will be small. If memory serves Shotwell said something like 5%. If they’re taking it far enough that it would work for SSTO, I’d expect a bigger gain than that.

              It’s only one part contributing to the overall gain they’re trying to get that includes all the rest of the changes – increasing tankage volume, increasing available throttle range, new engine bell on the second stage, etc.

              • “If memory serves Shotwell said something like 5%.”

                Have not read the Shotwell quote, but 5% (or less) might be doable.

                It is interesting how much more measured Shotwell’s pronouncements are than those of Musk isn’t it?

                Musk: The entire Falcon 9 first stage will be reusable (with very short turnaround) and be able to fly 100’s of times.

                Shotwell: The Merlin Engines may be reusable as many as 40 times.

                Question is which “authoritative” source should be believed.

                • Question is which “authoritative” source should be believed.

                  I don’t know. But, I remember reading or listening to a SpaceX interview that said the SpaceX CRS-1 engine(merlin 1-C) that failed in flight, had been used as a test engine at SpaceX’s McGregor testing facility. I don’t remember how many mission duration tests that it accomplished.

                  • Interesting data point. Thanks.

                    Now if we just knew:

                    (1) How the detailed design/operating characteristics of the three iterations of the Merlin Engine in question differed (pump speeds/chamber pressures vs. design changes to accommodate the presumably greater values, etc.).

                    (2) Upon which iteration was the maximum 40 uses projection made.

                    We would have the base data to have an evaluation of that projection made.

                    Unfortunately, that information (at least as far as I know) is not publicly available.

                    • Jester,

                      The article in question is over a year old.

                      Does the 40 flight figure use the pump speeds/chamber pressures being used then or those asserted for the new improved Falcon 9? The article does not say. So the refinance does not answer the question.

                      The ITAR excuse does not work. I have dealt with ITAR in the past. It was in getting ISS power conditioning modules called RPCM’s back and forth from Canada for maintenance. While doing that I was not only allowed but encouraged to give presentations to various public forums about the module.

                      There may (or may not) be some ITAR restrictions on the Merlin engines, but they would not prevent public discussion of changes in pump speeds/chamber pressures and the challenges in implementing those changes.

                      Interestingly the article does note NASA (and others) skepticism about Merlin reuse and even the SpaceX statements do not support Musk’s 100’s of flights for the whole first stage assertions.

                    • And the article specifically mentions the Merlin 1D in context with being tested through 40 cycles. This answers your question.

                      SpaceX has said it is the same engine.

                      ITAR is why it can’t be publicly released. Of course if you are a US Citizen working on a project with authorization you can get access to ITAR controlled information.

                      There definitely are ITAR restrictions on rocket engines, they are specifically covered in ITAR. You have been asking for specifics on their designs. It is possible that general information on chamber pressures might not be covered, but I’m not sure about that. It is still SpaceX proprietary information, though, and they are under no compulsion to release that information if they do not want to.

                      100s of flights is a future aspiration, not a near-term goal. I would not be surprised if the first rockets to be reused only flew a few times.

                    • Jester,

                      Last round for me as this is getting redundant.

                      The article is over a year old so they would almost have to be referring to pump speeds/chamber pressures prior to the proposed increased performance.

                      Nothing in the article addresses the impact (to the hypothetical 40 reuses) for the increased pump speeds/chamber pressures.

                      Keep posting redundant and uninformative statements so you can have the last word, as that seems to make you think you have won something.

                    • The article is not recent, but it does answer your question. Hence I provided it in response to your question.

                      I suspect that it based on testing done prior to any change in flow rate, but we do not know this for sure. It is possible that SpaceX has been preparing for this performance increase for several years.

                      The only reason I seem to be redundant is that you keep asking the same questions over and over and over. The answers to your questions aren’t going to change no matter how much you ask them, so I am being as informative as is possible.

            • It’s interesting to note that a Falcon 9 could deliver today’s Cygnus spacecraft, which is apparently 16,500lbs, with margin for landing. The Cygnus is loaded with more cargo than a Dragon flight but still doesn’t max out the full LV capability of the Falcon 9. So there is evidence that a first stage reusable Falcon 9 can carry a useful cargo load.

              • You say useful…..what exactly is the definition of “useful”?

                Let me guess, whatever they can lift will be defined as useful- and that kind of circular logic is meaningless.

            • Joe – “(1) To what temperature will they “super cool” it?”

              No answer, however:

              The kerolox powered LauncherOne by Virgin Galactic apparently will also use supercooled liquid oxygen.

              According to the January 23, 2014 NBC article ‘Hello, Newton: Virgin Galactic Unveils Its ‘Other’ Rocket Engine’ by Alan Boyle we read “In contrast, the Newton engines use RP-1 kerosene and supercooled liquid oxygen as propellants.”

              According to the September 28, 2015 announcement ‘Virgin Galactic Announces Significant Progress With Launcherone Rocket Propulsion’, “LauncherOne’s orbital flights are achieved using two rocket engines: a single 73,500 lbf thrust ‘NewtonThree’ main stage engine, and a single 5,000 lbf thrust ‘NewtonFour’ upper stage engine.”

              Since LauncherOne has evolved into a heavier launcher capable of putting 400 kilograms in LEO, instead of launching from the WhiteKnightTwo airplane, it now needs a Boeing 747 named ‘Cosmic Girl’ to launch it.

              See also the December 4, 2015 article ‘Virgin Galactic Acquires Boeing 747 for LauncherOne Missions’ by Jeff Foust.

              • Hi James,

                That is an excellent illustration of my point.

                Terms like densified, sub-cooled, super cooled are used interchangeably without specific definitions.

                Since a further reduction in LOX temperature by even one degree technically increases its density (but not to any significant extent) that does not tell you anything that can be used to evaluate what is supposedly being done.

                For example a slightly reduced temperature was used for the LOX in the Russian NK-33 engine to help cool the engines not improve engine performance. That is generally referred to as sub-cooled, but has been used (in the comments section of this website) as an example of the super cooling that could improve engine performance significantly.

                This leads to confusion and does not allow any real conclusions to be drawn.

            • Hi Joe,

              I finally found a source for the LOX temperature SpaceX is planning to use. Unfortunately, it’s not a primary source and there are a couple of minor errors in the relevant paragraph, but it’s a starting point.

              “It has been reported that SpaceX will employ a LOX temperature of approximately –218°C, one degree below [should be above] the Oxygen Triple Point achieved by running the LOX through a Nitrogen bath that is kept at a partial vacuum to decrease its temperature to nearly N2 ice temperature. This will yield an increase in LOX density from 1.134 grams per cubic centimeter to nearly 1.306g/cm³ while still maintaining the LOX below its freezing point and slush density of 1,338g/cm³ [should be 1.338]. Cooling the LOX to nearly its triple point yields a density increase of around 15%”


              LOX at approx. -218 C (not triple point, but about a degree above it)
              Density of about 1,303 kg/m³
              So it’s not slush LOX, and all statements I can find is that the Merlin 1D engines have not been significantly modified to handle the higher density of LOX, however, the sizes of the RP-1 and LOX tanks on both stages have been modified to accommodate the different amounts of each that will be used.

              • Interesting.

                “This will yield an increase in LOX density from 1.134 grams per cubic centimeter to nearly 1.306g/cm³ while still maintaining the LOX below its freezing point and slush density of 1,338g/cm³ [should be 1.338].”

                I would assume that is supposed to be “maintaining the LOX above its freezing point and slush density” also.

                However they would still be playing around very close to the triple point. Not my area of specialty, but I have in the past discussed the subject with people who are conversant in that kind of thing. According to them, when you get into that area the flow characteristics of the LOX change such that it has to be allowed for even for ground handling. That would be even more pronounced at the flow speeds required for a rocket engine.

                Additionally several other posters are saying that Shotwell said the increased density for SpaceX was in the 4% – 5% range.

                Guess we will just have to see what happens.

              • Just an aside, when reading the article I noticed this:

                “Operational launchers that employ sub-cooled LOX are Antares (in its original version, using LOX at –196°C) and Soyuz 2-1v (-192°C LOX), but in these cases, sub-cooled LOX is/was required due to the design of the engine.”

                Guess my Russian buddies were telling the truth after all.

                • I didn’t say they weren’t. As I said before, it may be required for cooling the engine, but there’s an attendant boost in performance regardless of the reason why the LOX is chilled.

                  • I do not want to beat this subject any further (if it was a puppy the ASPCA would be after both of us). But I will say it one more time and then you can take the usual last word.

                    If you look up the notional payload fraction to LEO for the N-1 (it never actually reached orbit) to the actual one for the Saturn 5 (which did not super cool it’s propellants) you will note that the Saturn 5 had superior performance.

                    That is a good comparison of first stage to first stage (both Kerosene/LOX engines) and was due to lighter structural mass of the Saturn 5, but the point is that any improved performance from further cooling of propellants was lost in the noise.

                    • It’s well known that the Saturn V had better payload fraction and better payload to LEO (or TLI) than the N-1. If you had asked me that I could have told you without looking it up.

                      But that is completely irrelevant. As you say, the performance boost from the chilled LOX is lost in the noise.

                      The size of the first stage of each rocket was much different, they had different engines with vastly different performance specifications, different size tanks, far different structures, etc., etc.

                      I’m lost as to why you’d even bring it up. It’s completely non sequitur.

    • This farce just drags on year after year. What is it accomplishing? I don’t get it.

      Two tons to LEO Joe? The Shuttle did 24 and 8 people a quarter century ago and we went to the Moon from scratch inside of a decade long before the cargo bay of dreams. How far the mighty have fallen and how much lower can we go?

      It appears the billionaire hobbyists are competing to make real 1950’s sci-fi tv rockets.

      As an amateur historian I can’t help but compare the present world situation to those founders of western civilization- the Greek city states. As an aside the U.S. seems to be devolving back to something resembling the Assyrian model centuries before any ideas about democracy. After aspects of those two entities are recognized a key term concerning a more recent fall comes to mind: latifundalization. It is actually a theological term.

      As a species we may already be deep into a mechanism of self-destruction without any collective realization of what is happening. Consider that even mentioning “collective” is polarizing and divisive. Since this is a space forum it is not a stretch to suppose what a alien civilization watching our antics might think about our chances of survival.

      The NewSpace movement is the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration. It is becoming more everyday a conflict between two perspectives: the O’Neill concept of a state-sponsored-creation-of-space-industry/migration and the Musk concept of snake-oil-and-corporate-welfare-space-clown-tourism.

      There must be a way to divert some of the vast funds being poured into the military, consumerism, and entitlements. My best guess so far is space solar as the cure for climate change being an issue in the less-than-a-year-away presidential race. I am not a proponent of Ayn Rand or Karl Marx and detest those who are as part of the problem. Right and left has a place but it toto they are going to kill us. Or rather, kill our children. Which is in my view the real problem hiding behind all the ideology: we all want our piece of the pie before our lives end and are not designed to care about anything else.

      • “The NewSpace movement is the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration. It is becoming more everyday a conflict between two perspectives: the O’Neill concept of a state-sponsored-creation-of-space-industry/migration and the Musk concept of snake-oil-and-corporate-welfare-space-clown-tourism.”


        Well, I think if America doesn’t go to the Moon, for whatever ‘reason’, or ‘lame thinking excuses’, other nations will join together and go and reap the resource and experience benefits. The world’s level of technological competence and financial capability keeps improving.

        • A significant downturn in the global economy and space travel will become part of a past golden age and no longer a possibility. An engineered pathogen, a dinosaur-killer asteroid or comet, a super-volcano, some chemical released into nature with an unintended consequence; we think humanity is indestructible when the opposite is true.

          If we have survival colonies offworld we survive. If we don’t we go extinct. Call me crazy but I think that deserves some DOD money. Even 1 percent of the DOD budget, combined with diverting all funding from the ISS and Mars into an acellerated SLS lunar program would give us a permanent base on the Moon within ten years.

          For FY 2016, the Department of Defense is requesting funding totaling $585.2 billion.

        • Newspace may not be the best term for it. The question is, “when does newspace become old space?” Is it when newspace companies start receiving government contracts? Thus, having government regulations forced upon it? If the millionaires and billionaires are spending their own money on their own space ideas to become space entrepreneurs, then, they are newspace. SpaceX is no longer a newspace company. It is now officially an oldspace company. Same as ULA, Boeing, Lockheed and Orbital ATK.

          Anyway, good luck to SpaceX in the upcoming launch and landing attempt of their first stage.

      • Well….I am an amateur historian. I misspelled latifundialization and misused it in the sentence by alluding to “a more recent fall.” The term was created to describe a historical situation in the Old Testament but the root word, latifundium, is Latin and describes the Roman equivalent of robber barons. In the present context it concerns the popular notion that SpaceX (or Elon Musk) IS the U.S. space program.

        Billionaire hobbyists do not a space agency make. As Dr. Paul Spudis has stated, “If you find yourself traveling down the wrong road, stopping and turning around is the first step towards fixing the problem.”

        If the kerosene wonder blows up again will we wait another 6 months for another 33 percent more improved hobby project? Since it was created with tax dollars intended to support the space station to nowhere, I would hope it eventually goes back there before that Albatross deteriorates to the point where it is abandoned.

        • I have to wonder Conway if you are just a troll or you actually believe what you are saying. You get 33% more by 20% more thrust from every engine (they were only running the engines at 80%), sub-cooled LOX which gives you around 4% extra LOX for the same tanks, a longer upper stage with more fuel and making some components (legs and gridfins) lighter. It’s not that hard to use the rocket equation and figure that out as you claim.

          • Conway is another of the Gary Church sock puppets. They make people in the SLS/anti commercial group look calm and rational even when over the top. My issue is that legitimate discussion gets buried under the insults and misdirection in both directions. Reality will eventually decide.

            • That the infamous excluded one just gave back what the NewSpace crowd thought they were entitled to give out and was repeatedly banned for it shows who is “over the top” John. It will take years of payback to even the books considering what arch-trolls like Coastal Ron have done. They have written literally volumes of robo-comments shouting down any criticism of SpaceX and the NewSpace LEO business plan.

              You go ahead and troll-brand and wail and gnash your teeth about it all you want. Nobody except others in your good ole boy club are going to commiserate.

            • John –


              And you are one of the “sock puppets” for whom or what?

              “My issue is that legitimate discussion gets buried under the insults and misdirection in both directions.”

              Then why throw “insults” if your “issue” is avoiding “legitimate discussion” getting “buried under the insults”?

              “Reality will eventually decide.” Perhaps “eventually decide” is a key concept.

              Politics decided long ago where NASA controls human space missions from, not your “Reality”, logic, science, “legitimate discussion” about optimal engineering, “insults”, or even the rocket equation.

              Politics is a ‘dirty science’ and politics and political campaign funding and jobs are all important parts of the game when you are talking about ‘giving out government money’ or government selected ‘winners and losers’ or government contracts ‘given’ to the President’s ‘anointed’ and billionaire owned large launcher and LEO cargo and human spacecraft company.

              If billionaires end up controlling space access and resources, then they may “eventually decide” to control human space missions from India, Nigeria, Singapore, the Moon, Mars, or Ceres.

              Billionaires do whatever maximizes profitability and is in their best interests, not what is in America’s best interests. And billionaires will ‘buy influence’ with whatever politicians they need to make use of. If you doubt that, talk to the folks who formerly worked in industries that have been off-shored.

              And how much money have billionaires hidden in off-shore accounts? Do you really think their international companies care deeply about America?

              What is your “Reality?”

              Each individual on Earth may have a different “Reality”.

          • Matthew,

            “they were only running the engines at 80%”

            A question: Hypothetically accepting the figure to be true, Shotwell has said (in regard to reusability) that the Merlin Engines might be reused up to 40 times. Was that estimate based on the old or new engine speeds/pressures and how will the increase affect that estimate?


            Sorry to be so “over the top” and not “look calm and rational”, but you know how people who dare to disagree with you are.

            • As an aircraft mechanic I often helped perform borescope inspections on turboshaft helicopter engines. I was an electrician and not a powerplant guy so I “assisted” though sometimes with a new mech doing it I was actually the one showing how it was done. They are very tedious and time consuming procedures but if one tiny hairline crack in a turbine blade is missed the engine could fail….catastrophically. Uh-huh.

              In my informed opinion inspecting a turbopump that burns pure oxygen and fuel to push massive amounts of the cryogenic and liquid propellants into a thin-walled liquid cooled chamber that channels a continuous explosion is not going to be as easy as conventional aircraft powerplants. Not at all. Add on inspecting the thrust section and plumbing and control systems etc. etc. and then multiply times nine.

              Now add on inspecting the lightweight stage structure that has been slammed onto the ground after being subjected to all the vibration and loads associated with a launch. Anybody who says a rocket is going to fly 40 times trouble-free without needing anything replaced and only a cursory inspection and thus lower the cost-per-pound to a fraction of other vehicles is running the same scam that sold the space shuttle.

              • I would add that NewSpace fans have over the years often cited the NASA “standing army”, often with a great deal of malice, as one more factor making the smaller cheaper hobby rocket path the way to go.

                Turning around the landed-back falcon 9 first stage effectively recreates that so-detested standing army for a much smaller payload. Unless Musk is going to use illegal immigrants standing in front of Home Depot to keep costs down. Considering all the lawsuits filed by former employees he might have to go that route.

          • Matthew,

            “they were only running the engines at 80%”

            A question: Hypothetically accepting the figure to be true, Shotwell has said (in regard to reusability) that the Merlin Engines might be reused up to 40 times. Was that estimate based on the old or new engine speeds/pressures and how will the increase affect that estimate?


            Sorry to be so “over the top” and not “look calm and rational”, but you know how people who dare to disagree with you are.

          • “It’s not that hard to use the rocket equation and figure that out as you claim.”

            If there were any numbers to run then I would not be able to make the comment now could I Mr. Troll-brander? But as Joe has stated, SpaceX does not share those numbers so if I want to speculate and opine then I should be able to without getting “insulted.”

            The arrogance and condescension from the NewSpace cyberbullies is never-ending.

          • Matthew – Your name has a meaning related to ‘tax-gatherer’, so perhaps you are interested in the convergence of space issues with taxpayer dollars. That’s certainly one of my interests!

            However, if someone implies an individual who gives his or her honest opinion about an event is a “troll” it may appear that the one doing the name-calling is either a bully or some other type of internet fool.

            Long ago, five or six ‘tough’ guys had made it real clear that they were bullies who were going to hurt me. I still smile about how three went flying through the air and the others ran away. ‘Tough’ bullies are often cowards.

            The internet is a strange land where political bullies get paid to insult and ‘take down’ anyone who doesn’t ‘believe’ or want to accept some of the nonsense, half truths, or outright sleazy lies that are endlessly repeated by the billionaires that pretty much ‘run the show’ on the planet Earth.

            Maybe some space cadets became space cadets precisely because they wanted to get far away from the kind of billionaire bullies that think it is ‘cool’ and ‘good business fun’ to grab onto an American national historic site and tons of taxpayer dollars simply so they can forgo some of the large costs of doing business in the real world that lacks the ‘benefits’ of ‘insider’ politics.

            Maybe, if we were honest, we would tell everyone on Earth that we Americans intend to give all or ‘as much as possible’ of NASA’s taxpayer paid for assets and budget to the nifty billionaire ‘campaign fund raising and bundling political friends’ of the President.

            Should we also tell those taxpayers that are ‘flippin whoppers’, or doing other types of non space related work, that the resources of the Moon, Mars, and asteroids de facto and de jure belong to the billionaires?

            Obviously, anyone that doesn’t believe in the appropriateness of billionaires ‘owning space and its resources’ or isn’t inclined “to use the rocket equation” to try and “figure” out what is truth and what is pure ‘rocketry hucksterism’ or ‘crass opportunism’ doesn’t have an internet right to say anything about how billionaires will use America’s national launchpad assets and taxpayer dollars, right?

            Or perhaps the internet is the cockroach and rat infested high tech home of some of the best billionaire con games on the planet Earth.

            Do you want folks to “wonder” if you are a supporter of those billionaire con games or if you are a wanna be intellectual bully?

            No? No is good! OK! Let’s see what could be done to assure everyone of your positive intentions.

            If you truly believe the needed information on the upgraded and reusable Falcon 9 is available in the public domain and “It’s not that hard to use the rocket equation and figure” out what is going on in this particular situation, you should sit down and write a post that does exactly that.

            Please use “the rocket equation” to clearly show us in detail what is happening now and could be possible in the future with the new upgraded and potentially partially reusable Falcon 9 Full Thrust launcher and exactly what are its new maximum payloads to LEO and GEO and how those numbers were obtained.

            And also please explain in-depth all the financial aspects this new upgraded and potentially partially reusable Falcon 9 Full Thrust launcher as well because, despite all the NASA noise about how ‘new space’ ‘commercial’ access to LEO is a real ‘deal’, lots of folks unfortunately seem to believe that so far it has been a lot of political hype for some costly, risky, and limited missions to take cargo and people to the ISS.

            Different launchers that lift people uphill into space have various failure rates. And truth be told, none of them are as reliable as billionaires often like to pretend when they gush to the media about space tourism and private missions to LEO, the Moon, Mars, and asteroids.

            Yep, please show us your doable “rocket equation” math, launcher risk analysis, and financial investigation of the upgraded and partially reusable Falcon 9 Full Thrust launcher here in the public domain and ‘light a candle in the darkness’.

            And, with the light from your in-depth Falcon 9 Full Thrust analysis shining brightly, hopefully we all will be able to find our manners and use those manners to refrain from cursing any doubting nonbeliever with the word “troll”.

  4. Ben,
    great article if anything I think it proves that SpaceX has no fear of blowing things up as I hope to see a return landing of the booster…

  5. Thank you Ben Evans for the interesting article!

    I hope all the upgrades SpaceX is implementing with the Falcon 9 Full Thrust launcher work out well and that eventually some of them are also implemented on other kerolox launchers!

  6. “This will increase to about 1.7 million pounds (771,100 kg) as the vehicle travels higher into the rarefied upper atmosphere.”

    Exceeding the thrust of a single F-1 Saturn V engine (first static firing: 1959).

    The Merlin is a crummy little engine, 9 of which are mounted on what amounts to a billionaire’s hobby rocket. What is needed are engines and vehicles that double and triple the performance and size of the Saturn V. This is the only path that will allow humankind is going to expand into the solar system. It is not flexible and there is no cheap.

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All Systems GO for Twilight Return of Cygnus to Space Station on Atlas-V Thursday

PHOTOS: Cygnus Ready to Spread Its Wings Again for Thursday Return to Space Station