SpaceX Soars from 39A for First Time, Delivers Dragon to Space & Returns Falcon to Earth

The inaugural SpaceX Falcon-9 to fly off historic NASA Launch Complex 39A, delivering their Dragon cargo capsule on the CRS-10 resupply flight to the ISS. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

For the 30th time in under seven years, the roar of Merlin rocket engines heralded another mission for SpaceX earlier today, as the Hawthorne, Calif.-headquartered launch services company delivered its latest payload to orbit, earlier today (Sunday). Flying for the tenth time in its “Upgraded” configuration—and its maiden launch from historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida—the workhorse Falcon 9 booster behaved flawlessly, as it delivered the CRS-10 Dragon cargo ship into low-Earth orbit, bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

After yesterday’s launch attempt was scrubbed at T-13 seconds, due to a Thrust Vector Control (TVC) issue, Sunday proved charmed and the Upgraded Falcon 9 roared aloft at 9:38 a.m. EST. In doing so, SpaceX fulfilled another requirement under its Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. Current plans call for Dragon to be robotically captured and berthed at the space station on Monday, where it will remain for about four weeks.

Despite being classified as a secondary mission objective, attention was inevitably drawn to today’s triumphant touchdown of the upgraded Falcon 9 first stage on Landing Zone (LZ)-1 at neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Formerly part of the Cape’s Launch Complex (LC)-13—utilized extensively by Atlas boosters between 1958 and 1978, most notably launching NASA’s Lunar Orbiter program—the complex was out of service for more than three decades, before SpaceX leased it from the Air Force in February 2015 as its first rocket landing site. Less than a year later, on 21 December 2015, the returning first stage of the first Upgraded Falcon 9 powered itself back to Earth and alighted precisely, close to the center of the 282-foot-wide (86-meter) landing pad. The feat was repeated at the end of last July’s CRS-9 Dragon mission.

Falcon-9 descends to land on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone-1, formerly Launch Complex-13. Note the low cloud deck at top of frame. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

Last Sunday, as is customary before each mission, the Upgraded Falcon 9 underwent a Static Fire Test of the nine Merlin 1D+ first-stage engines, which raised a thunderous roar, a cloud of smoke and yielded 1.5 million pounds (680,000 kg) of propulsive yield. Customary as it may be, the event was notable in that it marked the first occasion that rocket engines had been fired at Pad 39A since the final voyage of the Space Shuttle, back in July 2011. And if the 230-foot-tall (70-meter) Upgraded Falcon 9 itself looked peculiar, it certainly was, for the loss of Amos-6 in a launch pad explosion last 1 September led to new rules, precluding primary payloads from being mounted atop the vehicle during its test-firings.

With the successful completion of last weekend’s Static Fire Test, the CRS-10 Dragon was installed atop the Upgraded Falcon 9, as SpaceX moved towards an opening launch attempt at 10:01 a.m. EST Saturday, 18 February. The weather outlook at the Cape was predicted to be iffy, with a paltry 50-percent likelihood of acceptable conditions at T-0. The arrival of a strengthening upper-level trough over the Gulf of Mexico on Friday was expected to usher in widespread clouds and rain, migrating over the Florida peninsula and risking entrenchment over KSC by mid-morning Saturday. Nor did Sunday’s backup launch attempt at 9:38 a.m. offer a significantly better alternative; its 70-percent-favorable forecast was tempered by the possibility of violating the Cumulus Cloud Rule.

Falcon-9 and Dragon CRS-10 stand tall atop launch complex 39A at KSC. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

In spite of the gloomy outlook, SpaceX pressed ahead with the final stages of the countdown. The Upgraded Falcon 9 benefits from “full-thrust” engines, an upgraded airframe and can deliver up to 50,300 pounds (22,800 kg) into low-Earth orbit. It requires a far shorter timeframe to load its liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene (known as “RP-1”) propellants and, before last September’s anomaly, tanking typically did not commence until T-35 minutes. “Following the completion of our investigation,” SpaceX told AmericaSpace, “we indicated we were adjusting our fueling procedures. That’s temporary until we roll out the new [Falcon 9] design.” When the Upgraded Falcon 9 returned to flight in January, RP-1 tanking began more than an hour ahead of T-0, followed by liquid oxygen loading about 45 minutes before launch. A similar protocol was followed with CRS-10, with RP-1 beginning to enter the Upgraded Falcon 9’s tanks at 8:51 a.m. and liquid oxygen shortly thereafter at 9:19 a.m.

As circumstances transpired, the weather outlook for Saturday improved to 70-percent favourable, with a potential violation of the Thick Cloud Rule identified by the 45th Weather Squadron as the key obstacle. Passing T-10 minutes, the terminal countdown autosequencer was initiated and the nine Merlin 1D+ first-stage engines—arranged in a circle of eight, with the ninth at the center—were chilled-down, ahead of ignition. All external Ground Support Equipment (GSE) utilities were disconnected. The “strongback” was retracted and the Flight Termination System (FTS) was placed onto internal power and armed. In the final minutes before 10:01 a.m. EST, the Upgraded Falcon 9 transitioned to internal power and assumed primary command of all critical functions, going into “Startup”, at T-60 seconds. At this stage, the Niagara deluge system began flooding the pad surface with 30,000 gallons (113,500 liters) of water, per minute, to suppress the acoustic energy. The Eastern Range declared its readiness as “Green”.

However, the clock was halted at T-13 seconds, necessitating a scrub, in view of the instantaneous requirement of the CRS-10 mission. A couple of technical issues on the Upgraded Falcon 9’s second stage had arisen during the terminal countdown; namely the Thrust Vector Control (TVC) and the FTS. Launch was rescheduled for 9:38:59 a.m. EST Sunday. “Standing down to take a closer look at positioning of the second-stage engine nozzle,” SpaceX tweeted at 10:05 a.m. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk later added: “If this is the only issue, flight would be fine, but need to make sure that it isn’t symptomatic of a more significant upstream root cause.” He expanded upon this by pointing out that the glitch would be “99% likely to be fine”, overcome by a closed-loop TVC, but SpaceX erred on the side of caution and elected to scrub.

Sunday’s backup attempt was also expected to feature 70-percent-favorable weather and SpaceX moved into a 24-hour turnaround of their vehicle. This time, the countdown proceeded without incident. Three seconds before T-0, the new Merlins roared to life, pumping out a combined thrust of 1.5 million pounds (680,000 kg). Liftoff occurred precisely on time at 9:38 a.m. This was SpaceX’s 11th cargo delivery run to the space station, counting the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Demo mission in May 2012 and ten “dedicated” CRS flights between October 2012 and July 2016. However, this is actually the tenth ISS-bound Dragon to achieve orbit, following the high-altitude breakup of a Falcon 9 v1.1 and the loss of CRS-9 back in June 2015.

Immediately after clearing the tower, the Upgraded Falcon 9 executed a combined pitch, roll and yaw program maneuver to establish itself onto the proper flight azimuth to inject the CRS-10 Dragon into low-Earth orbit at an inclination of 51.66 degrees. Passing the point of maximum aerodynamic turbulence (colloquially dubbed “Max Q”) at 70 seconds into the flight, the booster later throttled back two of the Merlins to reduce the rate of acceleration at Main Engine Cutoff (MECO). Two and a half minutes after becoming the first rocket in almost six years to depart Pad 39A, the seven remaining Merlins fell silent and the first stage separated from the stack.

The first flight off 39A in over 5 years, SpaceX CRS-10 to resupply the ISS. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

It was now the turn of the second stage, equipped with a single, restartable Merlin 1D+ Vacuum engine, capable of 210,000 pounds (92,250 kg). This now picked up the baton to deliver its payload into low-Earth orbit. During its burn, the protective nose fairing—covering Dragon’s berthing mechanism—was jettisoned and the spacecraft separated from the second stage a little under ten minutes after launch. Shortly thereafter, its pair of power-generating solar arrays were deployed. By 2.5 hours into the flight, Dragon’s Guidance and Navigation Control (GNC) Bay Door was opened to expose critical rendezvous sensors, ahead of the two-day journey to the ISS.

As with its predecessors, CRS-10 will approach the space station along the “R-Bar” (or “Earth Radius Vector”), which provides an imaginary line from Earth’s center towards its quarry, effectively approaching from “below”. In so doing, Dragon will take advantage of natural gravitational forces to brake its final approach and reduce the need to perform excessive numbers of thruster firings. By Monday morning, it will reach a “Hold Point” about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the station, whereupon it must pass a “Go/No-Go” poll of flight controllers in order to draw nearer.

Further polls and holds will be made at distances of 3,700 feet (1,130 meters) and 820 feet (250 meters), after which Dragon will creep toward its target at less than 3 inches (7.6 cm) per second. Critically, at 650 feet (200 meters), it will enter the “Keep-Out Sphere” (KOS), which provides a collision avoidance exclusion zone, and its rate of closure will be slowed yet further to just under 2 inches (5 cm) per second. After clearance has been granted for the robotic visitor to advance to the 30-foot (10-meter) “Capture Point”, the final stage of the rendezvous will get underway, bringing Dragon within range of the station’s 57.7-foot-long (17.6-meter) Canadarm2 and capture by Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet, backed-up by Commander Shane Kimbrough. Both men will be based in the multi-windowed cupola for the operation.

Into a low cloud deck. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

The Robotics Officer (ROBO) in the Mission Control Center (MCC) at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, will then command the physical berthing of the cargo ship to the nadir CBM of the Harmony node. Berthing will occur in two stages, with the Expedition 50 crew overseeing “First Stage Capture”, in which hooks from the node’s nadir CBM will extend to snare the cargo ship and pull their respective CBMs into a tight mechanized embrace. “Second Stage Capture” will then rigidize the two connected vehicles, by driving 16 bolts, effectively establishing Dragon as part of the ISS for the next month. Shortly afterwards, the Expedition 50 crew will be given a “Go” to pressurize the vestibule leading from the Harmony nadir hatch into the cargo ship.

Although the primary focus of today’s launch was to deliver the CRS-10 Dragon into orbit, the discarded first stage was assigned the secondary objective of returning to a soft landing on the LZ-1 pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX’s record of bringing its Falcon hardware back through the “sensible” atmosphere has evolved considerably over the last three years. The provision of landing legs and hypersonic grid fins on the Falcon 9 v1.1 allowed for four “controlled oceanic touchdowns” of first stages in April, July and September 2014, followed by four mixed-success attempts to physically land on the deck of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) in the Atlantic Ocean.

Only on the maiden flight of the Upgraded Falcon 9 in December 2015 was a perfect controlled touchdown achieved; a success sweetened yet further by the fact that it did so on solid ground, at LZ-1. Since then, with the exception of three ASDS landing failures in January, March and June 2016, four returning Falcon first stages have touched down perfectly on the drone ship—the most recent instance being last month’s Iridium NEXT mission—and another has alighted on LZ-1.

Touchdown on Landing Zone-1. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

Less than three minutes after leaving Pad 39A, the Upgraded Falcon 9’s first stage executed the first “burn” of its Merlin 1D+ engines—the so-called “Boost-Back”—which adjusted the impact point, pushing it upward and directly it towards LZ-1. Assisted by on-board nitrogen-fed thrusters, the first stage “flipped” over and performed Entry and Landing burns to incrementally slow it down, initially to about 560 mph (900 km/h) and eventually a touchdown velocity of 4.5 mph (7.2 km/h). Controlling the first stage’s lift vector were four lattice-like hypersonic grid fins, configured in an “X-wing” layout, and the Falcon touched down perfectly on LZ-1, less than nine minutes after departing Pad 39A. “Baby came back!” tweeted Mr. Musk.

With Dragon now safely en-route to the ISS, the focus can turn to the next missions. On Wednesday, Iridium announced that its second batch of NEXT satellites—previously due to be launched by SpaceX in April—will now not launch until mid-June. The delay comes in response to a backlog of missions still on SpaceX’s books, after the September on-pad failure. “After such a successful first launch, we are eager to maintain the momentum until our network is completed,” noted Iridium CEO Matt Desch. “Even with this eight-week shift, SpaceX’s targeted schedule completes our constellation in mid-2018.” The announcement came as Iridium successfully connected the first NEXT satellite via its crosslinks into its existing global low-Earth orbit constellation.

As is customary, SpaceX has remained tight-lipped on its future manifest, stating only that its next mission from Pad 39A will deliver the heavyweight EchoStar-XXIII communications satellite to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). No launch date has been officially announced, but 28 February has been suggested. If EchoStar-XXIII does fly before month’s end, it will mark the shortest-ever interval between two launches from Pad 39A, eclipsing the 17 days betwist a pair of Space Shuttle missions in April 1985.


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Missions » ISS » Missions » ISS » COTS » CRS-10 »


  1. Good to see the pad going into service for yet another variant of space vehicle. Hopefully the pad will get a continual workout from now on.

  2. Two new changes in Space X procedures were not noted in your otherwise complete and interesting report.

    1 The CRS 10 mission marks the first use of the Automatic Flight Termination System. Note that this ability we be necessary for the Falcon Heavy to return all 3 boosters in the same time frame, critical!

    2 The strong back has a new operational procedure. With this launch it leans back as the rocket lifts off rather than as you describe the timing above. This allows shorter umbilicals with less risk of fowling.

  3. The F9 costs ~60m. Maybe 120m at the high end.
    The FH will probably cost twice that.

    The cheapest cost for SLS I’ve seen is 500m+. And that isn’t including a bunch of the other costs.

    There are plenty of commercial missions where the F9 or FH are big enough.

    As for human spaceflight missions, Crew and supply missions to the ISS are what the Dragon was designed for. Unless you’re launch new, large components of the station SLS level payloads are not needed.

    As for the larger BEO missions, FH is big enough for some non-human spaceflight missions and much cheaper than SLS. For the larger BEO human spaceflight missions, I believe SpaceX intends to use their proposed mega-rocket (BFR/BFS or IPT/IPS or some such).

    • How doesn’t it relate to what you stated? You said:
      “Probably not going to be much need for the Falcon after the SLS starts launching payloads”

      I pointed out that the Falcon 9 fits in a different part of the market and has many commercial customers and thus the success or failure of the SLS doesn’t mean much for the Falcon 9. Furthermore, even the Falcon Heavy is a significantly smaller rocket than the SLS and thus it’s future isn’t determined by SLS’s success either.

      The SLS is scheduled to fly at the end of 2018 if there are no delays. About 1.5 years from now. Last year fabrication of the rocket began in a number of locations.

      The Falcon Heavy is scheduled to fly this summer. In <5 months. Photos are available online of a number of completed portions of the rocket. The Falcon Heavy certainly has a history of delays, but it is just as much in existence as the SLS. (in that neither have completed fabrication as far as I know)

      The SpaceX “mega-rocket” does not exist. It is still a proposal in early development. I was simply saying that that is what SpaceX intends to use for BEO Human spaceflight.

    • I haven’t seem much emphasis from NASA about moving away from LEO, but I would be happy to see that.

      Last I heard the ISS is going to be around until at least 2024. That is 5 years. Plenty of business from NASA in that time (or at least the 3-4 years of it that SpaceX/Boeing will be launching commercial crew)

    • The first shipset of Falcon Heavy side boosters has arrived at the SpaceX R&D facility in McGregor TX for static fire acceptance tests. After the test firings, the boosters will be hauled to KSC for integration and launch.

  4. Ben and Guest,

    “The F9 costs ~60m. Maybe 120m at the high end.
    The FH will probably cost twice that.

    The cheapest cost for SLS I’ve seen is 500m+. And that isn’t including a bunch of the other costs.”

    …And what really hasn’t happened yet is the major cost reductions that reuse will allow for. Musk has said getting to $100.00 per pound to LEO is what needs to happen. Booster reuse now. Next to come 2nd stage reuse….Then Dragon Cargo and Crew will reuse with propulsive landing… I am not seeing anything at this Reuse level from LM or Boeing etc…

  5. Falcon heavy’s comparative existence with the SLS is not just because I said so, its because of the states of the hardware that makes up the vehicles.

    Also, I never said the falcon heavy is an entirely new rocket. It is a derivative. That makes it easier to develop, does it not?

    I also never said the Falcon heavy is going to be able to directly compete with big payloads that will only be able to fly on the SLS.

    The falcon heavy will compete in the range between the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy payloads(23mt – 54mt to LEO). It obviously cannot compete with the 70+ mt components that will be able to be lifted by the SLS.

    Note that the version of the SLS that is to fly at the end of 2018, will only be able lift 70mt. The further upgrades will require more money and time to be implemented. As far as I can tell Block 2 (130mt) isn’t expected to be flying until something like 2030.

  6. Fortunately SpaceX gets a lot of it’s business from commercial customers and thus while losing NASA ISS contracts will hurt, it will not end SpaceX.

    Also of note, while SpaceX doesn’t seem interested in lunar missions (although they will do one if someone pays them), Blue origin seems much more interested in lunar missions.

    Blue Origin is also currently working on an orbital rocket (supposedly to start flying around 2020) that is designed to carry 35-70mt to LEO. That rocket (assuming it materializes) is much stronger competition for SLS than even the Falcon Heavy is. Also Blue Origin is Jeff Bezos’s pet project. It doesn’t really use or need government funding.
    They also hinted at making an even bigger rocket after that. Time will tell. Blue Origin has also stated an intension to go to the Moon as opposed to SpaceX’s Mars goals.

    It is not safe to assume that SLS will remain the uncontested largest launch vehicle for the decade+ required for the Block 2 upgrades to be implemented.

  7. Many different launchers will get the payloads of many countries and companies to orbit. Launchers built in South Korea, India, Japan, China, and Russia might be quite ‘competitive’ with anything built in America.

    Payloads can cost much more than their launchers. Safely delivering human carrying spacecraft and other payloads into space will remain an important issue.

    National and international launcher costs will often be subsidized in many ways, just as they are today, to enable the high technology jobs, political power, resources, and national security that depend on access to LEO, the Moon, and the rest of Cislunar Space.

    SLS costs depend quite a bit on how frequently it is launched. The SLS is evolvable to launch 150+ mt into LEO and should play a useful launcher role for many decades.

    The International Orion spacecraft should open up many useful Cislunar options for the Home Planet.


    “Thus, the ULA scheme involves simultaneously developing both a market demand and a system to supply that demand. Workshop attendees devoted a significant amount of time at the workshop to this problem, which includes determining the intersection of different needs and interests among the various topical fields identified.

    Although launch was specifically excluded from consideration (it was assumed that multiple paths to LEO will be available for differing needs), we considered issues and requirements in space transportation, resources, manufacturing, energy and human spaceflight.”

    From: ‘Cislunar Space: The Next 30 Years
    United Launch Alliance has a vision.’ By Paul D. Spudis February 22, 2017

      • The SLS has large and extremely high tech hydrolox engines and an 8.4 meter diameter core that can offer many interesting future options.

        The SLS and International Orion system represents all of America and Europe and thus has broad political and financial support and evolutionary potential that no other launcher and spacecraft system offers.

        The European Space Agency, or ESA, wants to do human and robotic Lunar surface ISRU missions.

        The SLS and International Orion represent NASA, America, and the ESA with open and transparent systems and that don’t rely on secretive business practices and technology, and this reality of transparency and inclusiveness with a very large and powerful Cislunar Space transportation system can encourage and invite everyone in the world to identify with and vicariously or physically participate in international Lunar surface ISRU missions.

        The broad political and financial base of the SLS and International Orion system probably means future American Presidents will have far greater difficulty cancelling or playing highly partisan and other odd political games with Lunar missions that are focused on finding and extracting Lunar resources and benefiting the Home Planet.

        And yes, commercial folks worldwide will also play an essential role in finding and tapping Lunar resources and industrializing the Moon and accelerating the development of Cislunar Space.

      • Instead of focusing simply on the SLS and International Orion system’s costs, one should consider the large diversity of Cislunar missions and useful diplomatic and Lunar resource extraction benefits that will be enabled by that highly capable launcher and spacecraft system.


        “ESA, which was the last of NASA’s space station partners to commit to sticking with the program through 2024, has proposed building two additional Orion service modules and develop a new service-module propulsion system and deep space habitat technology as part of a no-exchange-of-funds contribution for ISS use from 2021 to 2024. Such a contribution would give ESA a key role in NASA’s plans for sending humans beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time since the 1972 conclusion of the Apollo moon program.”

        From: ‘ESA deal hinges on what Trump does with NASA’s human spaceflight plans’
        By Rob Coppinger — February 23, 2017

        “‘The exploration of space for all purposes, including commercial spaceflight, is our interest. And to that end, the CSF is announcing that we see many potential benefits in the development of NASA’s Space Launch System,’ Stern said in his remarks. ‘The SLS can be a resource that benefits commercial spaceflight.'”

        From: ‘Commercial group endorses use of Space Launch System’
        By Jeff Foust — February 8, 2017

        Could SpaceX and other launcher builders around the Home Planet benefit from the tapping of Lunar resources and space policy stability offered by the SLS and International Orion?

        Of course they could. Massive amounts of money around the world could be invested in the industrialization of the Moon and accelerating the development of the rest of Cislunar Space.

        Investors hate large amounts of uncertainty and risk. Investors need long-term Lunar and Cislunar Space policy stability from the ESA and NASA.

        The broad political space policy stability offered by the highly capable SLS and International Orion could and should assure students, universities, government leaders, entrepreneurs, businesses, and NGOs everywhere on the Home Planet that investing time, money, and serious effort in developing the resources of the Moon and Cislunar Space is a wise option.

        That politically stable and growing Lunar and Cislunar Space business environment should benefit SpaceX, ULA, Orbital ATK, Blue Origin, Americans, Europeans, Russians, and many other folks everywhere on our Home Planet.

      • Tracy the Troll –

        If launchers were just about cost, India might become big competition for SpaceX and everyone else.

        “Musk has another good reason to wince at the 20-in-1 feat by the PSLV-C34 rocket. One of the 20 satellites was SkySat Gen-2 of Terra Bella, a Google company. Google has a stake in Musk’s SpaceX and yet has chosen the Indian launcher.”

        And, “Musk and Israël will need to take India seriously, and watch its continuing progress in future, considering that two of the world’s three largest satellite operators — Luxembourg-based SES and Paris-based Eutelsat — made it clear last year that they would do everything they could to end the “duopoly” of Arianespace and SpaceX.”

        From: “Isro’s 20-satellite PSLV launch: Why US and Europe will watch India’s space programme closely” By Srinivasa Prasad 6/23/16

        “With its landmark simultaneous launch of 104 satellites from one rocket on 15 February, India’s space programme not only shattered the previous 37-satellite launch record by Russian space agency Roscosmos in June 2014, but emphatically signalled its intent to muscle into the multi-billion dollar global space sweepstakes.”

        And, “ISRO’s feat sets an enviable benchmark for the other top five space-faring nations/regions— the United States, Russia, China, Japan, and Europe with its European Space Agency. Putting commercial satellites into space for a fee is a growing business sector, as countries worldwide seek greater and more high-technology imagery and telecommunications. Of the $323 billion global space industry, its commercial support segment that includes launch services is alone worth $121 billion.”

        And, “ISRO is working on GSLV-III, the country’s heaviest and most powerful launch vehicle, designed to lift satellites weighing up to 5 tonnes to GTOs of 36,000 km.”

        From: ‘ISRO Is Reaching For The Stars—And Succeeding
        India is taking on the goliaths in the $121 billion global space launch services market.’
        By Sarosh Bana Executive Editor of Business India 2/21/2017

      • Tracy the Troll –

        Note on SpaceX’s competitor:

        “There are more details available now of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, Isro’s next mission to the Moon. The mission will have three components, an orbiter, a lander and a rover. After reaching an orbit 100 km over the surface of the moon, the lander will separate from the orbiter and soft land on the surface, after which the rover will be deployed. Isro is in the process of testing the sensors and actuators for soft landing on the surface of the Moon.”

        From: ‘Isro wants to put a rover on the moon and make an interplanetary trip to Venus’
        By tech2 News Staff 2/9/2017

        • James,
          There is just one thing you forget. the Indian government is subsidizing the launch cost of their rocket systems. This will not be allowed to continue during a TRUMP admisntration without penalty.

          “Investors hate large amounts of uncertainty and risk. Investors need long-term Lunar and Cislunar Space policy stability from the ESA and NASA.”…

          At $500M Plus per launch the SLS is not sustainable and will be replaced by a future spaceX “GFR XX” that will be a scaled up version…

          SLS will be limited to NASA exploration missions to the outer planets 1 or 2 times a year.

          • Tracy the Troll –

            Maybe the cheap “GFR XX” will be built by India or Russia or a joint venture company that taps the resources and abilities of both countries.

            Maybe no one really pays much attention to the clear history of the many direct and indirect government subsidies and launcher development contracts received by SpacX.

            Maybe if NASA’s Fastrac rocket engine had been five times bigger than it was, SpaceX’s Merlin engine count on its launcher would be a whole lot less than it is.

            “Fastrac or alternatively MC-1 engine was a pump-fed liquid rocket engine developed by NASA for use on small inexpensive, expendable rockets. Fastrac uses RP-1 kerosene and liquid oxygen as propellants in a gas-generator power cycle.”

            And, “Engine system development testing of the MC-1 began in 1997 [4] and continued until the Fastrac program was cancelled 2001,[5] 48 tests were conducted on three engines using three separate test stands.[6]

            The engine never flew, but with NASA’s cooperation much of the MC-1 design and technology was adopted by the private corporation SpaceX for its Merlin 1A engine[7]”

            From: Fastrac (rocket engine) Wikipedia

            When NASA gives you the technology for your first rocket engine, building a launcher becomes a whole lot cheaper and faster.

            And when DARPA, the Air Force, NRO, or big brother NASA is always there to provide essential technical help, needed assets, or various friendly development or other contracts, your launcher costs also go down.

            The US government has been directly and indirectly subsidizing SpaceX one way or another right from the beginning of the company. Any nonsense claim about India subsidizing its launchers and SpaceX being a paragon of commercial virtue in accessing space is simply a lie or a really bad political joke.

          • Tracy the Troll –

            Perhaps it would be useful to at least sometimes consider SpaceX, and a ‘few’ other companies, to be government subsidized jobs programs for poor old Socialist California.

            “It is a state of a perfect set of laws – at least in the minds of those wedded to the legislative pursuit of social justice. Under the one-party Democrat rules, spending on fairness tops $100 billion every year. Meanwhile, the basic infrastructure of the state, so necessary for the economy long and short term, is collapsing.”

            And, “California, of course, is the front-line for Sanctuary Cities – so many of which have also pledged to fight Trump.”

            “California leads the nation in poverty when cost of living is factored into the equation.”

            From: ‘California: The Physical Collapse Of A Social State’
            By Tom Del Beccaro 2/22/2017

            Yep, subsidizing a poor and anti-Trump Socialist state with various high tech jobs programs makes a lot of sense to some folks. However, it may not make much sense to some of the folks who don’t live in California.

          • To understand the current launcher situation, and a wider view of America and the world, it might be useful to remember:

            “There simply is so much at stake today. As a result, our governments that benefit so many, employ so many, and tax so widely–in short our governments that pick so many winners and losers–are understandably subject to an intense competition for their control.”

            Comment by Tom Del Beccaro who is the author of ‘The Divided Era’

            • James

              “And, “California, of course, is the front-line for Sanctuary Cities – so many of which have also pledged to fight Trump.””

              Wasn’t there a big ICE raid in LA recently? ….I understand that Cal is telling everyone about fighting Trump… But… Someone is helping the Feds with ICE raids..No?

              “Instead of focusing simply on the SLS and International Orion system’s costs, one should consider the large diversity of Cislunar missions and useful diplomatic and Lunar resource extraction benefits that will be enabled by that highly capable launcher and spacecraft system.”

              No actually I think that as soon as SpaceX reuses boosters and lowers the cost to $30M for F9 …ULA will produce an SSTO based on the X-33 and Venture Star that they have been perfecting secretly.. That will will launch 20 tons for $20M..In the end it always about the …Money

              • Out of curiosity,
                Do you have any evidence that ULA is actually developing anything based on the X-33 or Venture Star?

                I would be very interested to see it.

                • Ben,
                  Now if I went through “Official Channels” it wouldn’t be secret now would it…This is like the Skunk Works…Or the recipe for Coke… The People at ULA are NOT going to watch their cash flow disappear…Because in the end …always about the Money.

                  I did a little digging…All of the major Technological requirements were completed for the X-33 in 2004… the Fiber Carbon LOX tank was perfected by Grumman..And that was the last piece needed…or maybe LM will just keep this for itself and NOT share with Boeing…

                  • I was simply curious as to what you knew.

                    Based on what you’ve said, it seems like that might be a reasonable thing for LM to do.

                    But, at least in my experience, companies don’t always do what even employees can show would be a good idea, so I difficulty with your assumption that they must be working on perfecting these things in secret.

                    It may simply be that when LM higher-up decide SpaceX (or whoever) is a threat due to extremely low cost launches, they will go “Oh crap, what can we do?!? and only then actually finally hear the folks in their own company telling them they need to be working on the X-33/Venture Star concept.”

                    This is one of the things were perhaps it’s best to wait and see what they actually do.

                    • Ben,
                      …And SpaceX just stole the thunder about ULA launching the SLS around the moon with NASA astronauts in 2018 …On its maiden launch no less…Time to pull the cover off the Venture Star..

              • Tracy the Troll –

                “In the end it always about the …Money”

                Yep, that is often the case. However, national security, diplomacy, globalization, cultural inclusiveness, wise leadership, history, wars, and some other things can also impair or enhance money making opportinities on a very large scale for many people.


                “In addition to its official focus on connecting the world’s four billion unconnected citizens to the world wide web by the end of the next decade, OneWeb is eyeing the nascent Internet of Things sector, connected cars and in-flight connectivity.”

                And, “The first 10 OneWeb spacecraft are scheduled to launch about a year from now on a Europeanized Soyuz rocket from Arianespace.”

                From: ‘OneWeb weighing 2,000 more satellites’ By Tereza Pultarova and Caleb Henry 2/ 24/2017


                “The Soyuz launch vehicle is the most frequently used launch vehicle in the world.[1]”

                And, “The Soyuz launcher was introduced in 1966, deriving from the Vostok launcher, which in turn was based on the 8K74 or R-7a intercontinental ballistic missile.”

                And, “The production of Soyuz launchers reached a peak of 60 per year in the early 1980s. It has become the world’s most used space launcher, flying over 1700 times, far more than any other rocket. Despite its age and perhaps thanks to its simplicity, this rocket family has been notable for its low cost and very high reliability, both of which appeal to commercial clients.”

                From: ‘Soyuz (rocket family)’ Wikipedia


                “In fact, Indian strategic affairs expert C Uday Bhaskar, director of the New Delhi-based think-tank Society for Policy Studies, has been quoted by other media outlets as saying that India can put satellites into orbit at between 60% and 70% less cost than other countries.”

                From: ‘Space: Where India’s frugal efficiency and China’s ambitious vision are set to clash’ By Srinivas Laxman February 27, 2017
                At: Quartz India

                Lots of folks want to reduce LEO launch risks and have cheaper launcher costs while also increasing the communication and business opportunites of everyone on Earth.

                Time will tell how it all will work out.

                • James,
                  Sooner or later …India will have to disclose how much they are “supplementing” their launch costs…Whether you dump steel or launch on the market place below cost…You are not sustainable.. As for the Soyuz program… Great little system from the 1960’s probably paid for with US taxes dollars VIA the Federal Reserve to the IMF or some other Agency..Just like the VW Bug great engineering and zero comfort..Oh and the landings are nothing short of a death defying crash land somewhere in a 1000 sq. mile area. Besides weapons and oil its the only other thing that Russia can sell because they are a country run like the MOB.

                  • Tracy the Troll –

                    “Whether you dump steel or launch on the market place below cost…”

                    And President Obama ‘giving away’ the enormous and very costly NASA Launchpad 39A at below market replacement cost and historic ‘Moon Pad’ brand name recognition value to his political friend ‘obviously’ wasn’t another nice big fat subsidy… Is Elon the King of sweet and diverse government subsidies?

                    Amazing how Jeff Bezos and the good rocket folks at Blue Origin haven’t really needed much government help at all, isn’t it? Maybe their true entrepreneurial spirit will change and maybe it won’t.

                    In any case, Russia has its billionaires trying to run things and grabbing national resources to benefit themselves and so do we…

                    Naked greed often ‘hires or buys’ political sycophants to help make the rules and laws on this world.

                    “Another kleptocrat.”

                    From page 782 of ‘Commander In Chief’ which is a Tom Clancy ‘Jack Ryan’ based novel written by Mark Greaney, Copyright 2015.

                    • Jeff Bezos had and has far more money than Elon Musk. Elon Musk is worth ~13 billion now, but almost all of that is tied up in his companies. 3 years ago his worth was about 3 billion.

                      Jeff Besos is worth over 70 billion now. (3 years ago it was 25 billion) BO’s lack of need for government help is due to it’s owner’s wealth.

                    • Ben and Tracy the Troll –

                      Yep, the “true entrepreneurial spirit” is only for billionaires with “70” billion dollars. Poor billionaires with less than that amount are free to gorge themselves on taxpayer money and government property transfers and tax avoidance deals.

                      OK! It is always good to know what the rules are of the funny money games we watch.

                      Let us all rise and strongly defend and protect kleptocratic wealth growth opportunities, through needed and diverse types of government subsidies, that are devised for poor billionaires!

                    • James,
                      Jeff Bezos too is looking for NASA dollars and lots of them…


                      Its important for you to remember that earth is run by the Golden Rule…He who has the Gold makes the rules…Or

                      For all the talk of Democracies and Republics we are really run by Feudalism with Kingdoms and Serfs…Nothing has really changed in the current global civilization since the beginning of Recorded history.

                    • ” For all the talk of Democracies and Republics we are really run by Feudalism with Kingdoms and Serfs ”

                      Not even remotely true. In the US less than in almost any other place.

                  • It is ‘reassuring’ to see that good old kleptocracy and sycophancy is alive and doing well…

                    Yep, political deal making for billionaire political ‘friends’ eventually pays off big time.

                    “Being president of the United States is perhaps the most powerful job on earth — and being a former US president can be one of the most lucrative.”

                    And, “With book deals, speaking engagements, and a government pension, former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama stand to earn as much as $242.5 million in the next 15 years, according to research from the Kogod School of Business at American University.”

                    And, “Considering that the couple was worth about $1.3 million when they entered the White House, they’re on track to substantially increase their net worth.”

                    From: ‘The Obamas could earn more than $200 million in the next 15 years’ By Emmie Martin

              • Money, money, money.

                “For most of our history, superior growth rates fostered an expanding economic pie that fed our ever increasing melting pot and kept social discord relatively at bay. No more.”

                And, “Over the last 15 years, wages have been flat. Worse yet, long term economic growth for America is grinding to a slow halt – from a median average of 4% in the 1950s to less than 2% today. None of that is the fault of working Americans or American entrepreneurs.”

                And, “It was a bipartisan effort over decades that pushed total government spending to 37% of the economy and costs of regulations to over $2 trillion per year. All in all, government spending or our response to government mandates and regulations now consume half of the economy. Literally half the economy is struggling to support itself and the other half as well.”

                From: ‘Our Corrosive Social Competition And What Trump Must Do About it’
                By Thomas Del Beccaro


                “I served in Congress for 16 years and taught civics for 13 more. Our government no longer looks like the one I told my students about—or the one the Constitution describes.”

                From: ‘We No Longer Have Three Branches of Government’
                By Mickey Edwards February 27, 2017

                Shrink the cost of our government and avoid some stupid wars and there would be plenty of money and opportunities to build the “X-33/Venture Star”, super heavy launchers, SLS, Orion, large payloads, and Lunar and Cislunar infrastructure…

                • James,
                  “Shrink the cost of our government and avoid some stupid wars”…That is very very very hard to do. As the entire purpose of the Government is Spend Money it does not have so that it has to borrow from the Federal Reserve, a private banking consortium to keep their cash flows continuing.

                  • Tracy the Troll –

                    Money is needed for building mining and industrialization infrastructure on the Moon…

                    Even Elon admits there is lots of money to be made in Cislunar space and the Moon is an attractive destination for folks with money.

                    “SpaceX plans to launch two paying passengers on a tourist trip around the moon next year using a spaceship under development for NASA astronauts and a heavy-lift rocket yet to be flown, the launch company announced on Monday.”

                    “‘I think there’s a market for one or two of these per year,” he said, estimating that space tourist fares charged by SpaceX could eventually contribute 10 to 20 percent of the company’s revenue.'”

                    From: ‘SpaceX to send first paying tourists around moon next year’
                    By Irene Klotz February 28, 2017

                    Note also:

                    “For the second consecutive year, Australia was the No. 1 country welcoming millionaire migrants, beating even the U.S. There was a 38% jump in millionaire migrants to Australia (11,000 last year versus 8,000 in 2015) and a 43% increase in those migrants to the U.S. over the same period (10,000 in 2016 versus 7,000).”

                    From: ‘Millionaires can’t seem to flee this European country fast enough’ By Quentin Fottrell Feb 28, 2017

                    What is “very very very hard to do” we do every day. However, what is impossible often takes a little more money and a bit longer to accomplish.

                    • James,
                      The only money that I am suggesting we need is…Free Market, Open Market, Competitive Market Actions. Or Money that is not from Corruption, Collusion, Consolidation.. We have a long way to go to create that marketplace.

                    • Tracy the Troll –

                      “We have a long way to go to create that marketplace.”


                    • “We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption by imposing a 5 year ban on lobbying by executive branch officials –- and a lifetime ban on becoming lobbyists for a foreign government.”

                      And, “I have further ordered the departments of Homeland Security and Justice, along with the Department of State and the director of National Intelligence, to coordinate an aggressive strategy to dismantle the criminal cartels that have spread across our nation.

                      We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth — and we will expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted.”

                      “In the last 8 years, the past administration has put on more new debt than nearly all other presidents combined.”

                      At: ‘Read Trump’s full address to Congress’

                      Yikes! Who does this person think he is to drain so many enormous swamps?

    • So where did you plagiarize the first part? Clearly, it can’t be your writing, as it doesn’t contain your usual childish euphuistic insults toward Elon Musk and everyone connected with Martian science and engineering.

    • “…comments now number 12 instead of 19, and only 5 are visible”

      Looks like Ben is doing some pruning here. Good. No doubt the crew at AmericaSpace are tired of the interminable conspiracy theory screeds from the usual suspects, every time a story involving SpaceX or Mars is posted.

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