Followup: Falcon 9 spiral light video

By Phil Plait | June 5, 2010 6:08 pm

Just thought y’all would like this video of the spiral over Australia caused by the Falcon 9 second stage booster. This really shows you the motion of the spin, as well as the bulk motion of the object across the sky; it moves just as you’d expect something in orbit to move. Shocking, I know.

Apparently, a lot of people saw it; Aussies must be early risers. Man, I’d love to see something like this. So cool.

Tip o’ the tin foil beanie to The Plane Talking blog.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Space
MORE ABOUT: Australia, Falcon 9, SpaceX, UFO

Comments (56)

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  1. Mer om Falcon 9-uppskjutningen « Tyngdlöst | June 6, 2010
  1. Robin S

    I think you’re overlooking another possibility: it’s moving exactly like you’d expect a UFO to move if the Zeta Reticulans piloting that UFO wanted their ship to appear to behave EXACTLY like the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, in orbit, with some residual roll. You apparently take for granted exactly how smart aliens are.

  2. At least the fellow (What’s ‘strine for fellow? Bloke?) making the video wasn’t prattling on about spacemen and other nonsense. He was just calmly describing what he saw.

    BTW, minus the spiral created by the outgassing from the spinning booster, this looks pretty much like an Atlas launch from Vandenburg AFB when they would to send them up in a southerly trajectory. Those of us in the L.A. area would get a pretty neat view.

  3. You know this video is a great example of why the whole UFO thing is really getting tough for the LGM believers. You get your beautiful picture/video and some geeky guy on the internet throws water all over it by announcing its just a regular human type rocket. Its cruel, BA. Cruel.

    I still stand by my idea that the Falcon should always emit the gas so we can all look for the spirals in the sky.

  4. @kuhnigget: Yep, ‘bloke’ (pron. ‘blaaaaaooooak’ – 1 syllable) is ‘strine for ‘fellow.’

    Since the sun was rising but yet just below the horizon in eastern Australia, the mist (LOx? Kerosene?) being ejected from the booster was backlighted, making for an impressive and unusual sight. It was highly visible against the dark early morning sky, thus catching a lot of attention.

  5. Just heard a story about it on the radio – first they started off by pointing out that “experts” had “linked” it to a private space launch, but then interviewed some guy who claimed that UFO sightings tended be most common around the winter solstice, so this was right in UFO season.


  6. KurtMac

    I’d love to see something like that too. I remember last year I missed an ISS/Shuttle flyover my area, only to learn later that at the time the recently undocked Shuttle was venting waste water, which left a nice misty tail. I was so bummed I missed that.

  7. Chris

    @Joel, lol the winter solstice, eh? Maybe a trip to Earth is to the aliens what a trip to the Aspens might be to us. They just love winter sports.

    What I don’t get is why UFO true believers feel they need to cling to such fantastic theories when the plain truth of the matter is usually quite fantastic in its own right.


    I don’t know how the guy making the video was able to stay so calm, especially when it passed behind those clouds!

  9. Jomas The Tolerated

    Lies! Lies and slander! It’s a UFO! Government cover-up! Roswell! Area 51! Invasion! The truth is out there!

    Provided you’re willing to ignore reality, that is, which, let’s face it, some people are exceedingly good at.

  10. mouse

    “What I don’t get is why UFO true believers feel they need to cling to such fantastic theories when the plain truth of the matter is usually quite fantastic in its own right.”

    I don’t get that either and it always makes me embarrassed to admit I believe there’s aliens out there somewhere. Maybe they’ve been here maybe they haven’t. Maybe we’ll never know. I just think they’re out there in the universe or will evolve on some other world someday. And finding out the real reason behind some nifty stuff like this doesn’t take away from that so I don’t get the spazzitude.

  11. Question: the bloke mentions that the mist cloud follows right along with the rocket through the sky, rather than staying behind as a trail – how does that work? Is it just emitting & dissipating fast enough that we only see it near the source? Or is it non-propulsionary stuff coming out at low speed, and literally just following right along with the rocket out there in the vacuum?

  12. Ad Hominid

    Meanwhile, back here on Rock-side, Socialist Pinko Bolsheviks Republicans continue to attack free enterprise and capitalism (at least when it’s SpaceX).

    The near universal acclaim that SpaceX has acquired for the successful launch of the first Falcon 9 is not shared within the United States Congress, which is still skeptical of many aspects of the Obama space plan, which includes reliance on companies like SpaceX for Earth to Low Earth Orbit transportation. The reaction illustrates for all the technical triumph that SpaceX has accomplished with the Falcon 9 launch, it still faces political problems.

    Typical was the reaction of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, who represents workers in and around the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

    “This first successful test flight of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is a belated sign that efforts to develop modest commercial space cargo capabilities are showing some promising signs. While this test flight was important, the program to demonstrate commercial cargo and crew transport capabilities, which I support, was intended to enhance not replace NASA’s own proven abilities to deliver critical cargo and humans to low Earth orbit. Make no mistake, even this modest success is more than a year behind schedule, and the project deadlines of other private space companies continue to slip as well. This test does not change the fact that commercial space program are not ready to close the gap in human spaceflight if the space shuttle is retired this year with no proven replacement capability and the Constellation program is simultaneously cancelled as the President proposes.”

    Er, it might be because SpaceX will do the job for a third as much using capabilities it developed on its own dime.
    Note that Commisar Senator Hutchison represents workers and peasants “in and around the Johnson Space Center in Houston.”

    Note also that these Trotyskyite infiltrators have received heavy support from that notorious den of radical anti-capitalist agitprop and big government liberalism known as Free Republic.

  13. Noel

    @ Ken Williams. In space, there’s no air resistance to absorb the momentum of the gas particles, so they end up orbiting with the vehicle they’re escaping from. (however, relative to the vehicle, they’re moving outward at a steady pace).

  14. @Noel okay, so I guess that’s the second option I mentioned – for some reason I thought it was a rooster-tail from the rocket propulsion, but I guess it’s just a slow (by comparison) leak?

  15. Robin S

    @Ad Hominid (12): Notice that Kay Bailey Hutchison fails to mention that SpaceX is closer to getting man rated and man operational than Ares/Constellation was/would have been, especially as there was no money for Constellation. Also, it’s not as if the Shuttle could close the gap. That program has been winding down and in the process of being shut down since the last president. Spares manufacturing was shut down long ago, and now there’d even difficulty getting up and running to manufacture external tanks. Shut down production lines would have to be re-certified. Besides, if we keep the Shuttle flying that definitely means they’ll less or no money for anything else. Sen. Shelby of Alabama is using much the same tack, with a bit more mean spirit. Sure, if they got they wanted, they might keep people employed a bit longer in their districts, but they’d also keep the US in LEO and prevent the US from manned exploration of deeper space. It’s like the guy said in “The Right Stuff”: “No bucks, no Buck Rogers” (or something to that effect).

    @Ken Williams (14): It doesn’t have to be a continuous leak. It could be residual gas from engine shut down/a purge of the engines after shut down. The gas will stay with the craft until the craft fires engines again, although the gas might be accelerating in a different direction. Remember during the Apollo 13 episode, debris from the explosion stayed with the CSM/LEM until they fired the LEM’s engine for the first time.

  16. The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge

    If SpaceX is having trouble figuring out what caused that terminal roll, I’ll tell them—sight unseen—what caused it.

    The Falcon 1 and the second stage of the Falcon 9 have only a single engine, therefore no roll control through gimballing. They have the exhaust pipe of the gas generator sticking out way to the side to provide thrust they can vector to provide roll control. They shut off the flow of propellant to kill the engine, but that didn’t stop gas from exiting the pipe. They did, however, stop controlling it because…the engine was off, right? (There’s probably still LOX evaporating through the gas generator and out the pipe, which is causing the visual display.)

    Without echoing idiots like Hutchinson, I find it distressing that our only prospect of retaining spaceflight capability is people reinventing the wheel and repeating the mistakes of 50 years ago. (Recontact on their third failed Falcon 1 launch. Recontact! You can’t make this stuff up!)

    Of course, nothing can be learned from all that prior art because it was the eebul, inefficient gummint doing it! (Well, no, it was private contractors—just like now.)

  17. Lucy

    We have seen the same or very similar in London, England at approx. 10:30pm GMT 5th June. A bright object traveling very slowly in an irregular fashion which almost looked like a star on fire very low. Behind the clouds you could see what looked like vapour coming from it. Lasted about 2 mins passing across the sky and then seemed to burnout and disappear … Never seen anything like this in my life! Lucy

  18. jcm

    See? No actual Little Green Men!

  19. Chip

    When I lived in Phoenix years ago, Lewis Avenue at 40th Street was inline with some of the Vandenburg AFB launches. Occasionally we could see the rocket tailpipe facing Arizona as it headed up above the Pacific. I didn’t see a spiral but instead a bright star-like point that would expand into an enormous sphere while simultaneously becoming much dimmer and fading out. It was very cool.

  20. Mal

    Hi Phil,
    Thanks for all the work you did making sense of the UFO reports from Aus.
    It helped us a lot here down under. I’ve linked to your article from our humble little blog site at:

    And thanks for getting stuck into that silly Doug Moffett fellow.


  21. humble reader

    @Ad Hominid
    yup, gotta love the GzeroP strategy, first their boy george “instructs NASA to
    return to the moon” with no funding behind it of course. When the new administration
    is forced to cut the blotted fiasco anyway and come up with new ideas, they crawl
    out of the woodwork to moan their strawman NASA program.
    Ditto the Deep Horizon mess, 12 years of GzeroP administration deregulating
    everything to do with their biggest lobby, oil, and when it blows up on the current
    admin it’s somehow his fault and he’s not doing enough.

  22. Jon Hanford

    Everyone has missed the connection. Something from beneath the clouds of Jupiter (June 3rd fireball) has now entered Earth orbit. We have incontrovertible video of both! Has no one read/seen “War of the Worlds”? :)

  23. Stone the bloody crows. Apparently now the weather is all over the place because of the HAARP facility in Alaska. The spirals in the sky are proof…
    Damn those Yankee weather manipulators. So they’re the reason I had to sit in the bloody rain at the footy this arvo. To make matters worse I could only cover one of my beers while the others were getting watered down with the rain.

  24. #1 Robin S:
    A few years ago, some ridiculous so-called “documentary” on UFOs was shown on British TV. I didn’t watch it, but I heard that some 24-carat nutjob, who believed that we were being visited by alien spacecraft on almost a daily basis, claimed that most of us weren’t aware of it, because, “they are so sophisticated, they can disguise themselves as ordinary aircraft”!!!!
    How’s that for unfalsifiable???

  25. Robin S

    @ The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge: No, you’re wrong. The gimbaled stage 2 Merlin engine provides only pitch and yaw control. Roll control, in real Dragon capsules, will be provided by Draco thrusters (18 will be on the Dragon) using hypergolic propellants. The boilerplate Dragon currently in orbit doesn’t have the Draco thrusters on board, so there’s nothing on the orbiting remnants of Falcon9 to control roll. Besides, a gimbaled engine cannot control roll as it doesn’t produce a tangential (with respect to the roll axis) moment.

  26. alfaniner

    What makes this video great is that it includes clouds for scale, the horizon, and the orbit motion of the object (which you don’t actually realize until about halfway through.) Spectacular!

  27. Robin S

    @ The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge Says (16): Without echoing Hutchison, you sound just like her. Getting to orbit is not the easy task you paint it to be. If it were, everyone would be doing it. Every new rocket has had its bugs and failures: the Atlas series; the Titan series; the Delta series; Ariane’s rockets; and so on. Those failures have happened to companies steeped in rocket design history, so SpaceX experiencing failures is no surprise. Rather, it’s expected for any new rocket. Recontact? Guess what: on experimental systems, sometimes things go awry. Everything can’t be tested for on the ground; every eventuality can’t be accounted for. Sometimes crap does happen. In fact, those failures are essential as they cause a re-examination of the system and a subsequent improvement. Everyone learns from those failures.

    Talk of “re-inventing the wheel” is just ignorant and dumbs down the topic of space travel and the complexities involved. In fact, such a statement is only useful as political fodder. SpaceX and other companies–Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Energia, Orbital Sciences, et al–are far from the “mistakes of 50 years ago.” 50 years ago, engineers and scientists didn’t have nearly the tools and knowledge that engineers and scientists have now. It’s those new tools and knowledge that allow a company like SpaceX to bring new systems online with so few failures/issues compared to the past. Still, the difficulty of the task, i.e. putting an object or people in orbit, can’t be brushed aside with a flick of the wrist and a Kay Bailey Hutchison reference. This past Friday, every aerospace engineer new the risks that SpaceX faced and knew the odds against success (from a technical standpoint, not the biased viewpoint of a Hutchison or you.).

    As for the idea that “nothing can be learned from all that prior art,” well, that’s just stupid. That assumes that no knowledge has been carried forward and that nothing done in the past was worth carrying forward. Nothing can be learned? Oh, how about everything that Rocketdyne….now Pratt & Whitney….learned in making the F1 engine for the Saturn rocket first stage? That engine was one of the greatest rocket engines ever. It still stands on its merits today, and every liquid rocket engine out there, right now, owes a lot of its being and technology to the work done by Rocketdyne. Guess who makes the Space Shuttle’s main engines? Yeah, that’s right: Pratt and Whitney/Rocketdyne. They’re direct descendants of the F1 motor. What’s written today in textbooks on rocket design/aerospace design is in large part due to the work of those people 50 years ago, both in private industry and in the government, in the form of NASA.

  28. Harabeck

    It pains me to go to the youtube link and see the poster arguing fervently that this a UFO.

  29. Ken (a different Ken)

    @27 Robin: It will be interesting to see how rocket technology progresses if it is fully taken over by the commercial sector, and designers can no longer learn from each others mistakes and successes because everything is a proprietary “trade secret”.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for SpaceX and wish them well. But you can clearly see in the way Elon Musk holds his cards close to his chest, that nobody outside of SpaceX is going to learn anything that will help them prevent a similar roll problem.

    The advantage of NASA doing the work – even through contractors – is that others can learn from it thus lifting the whole industry.

  30. Robin S

    @29 Ken: Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how this evolves, but I’m not worried about the commercial sector taking over rocketry. As outlined in the current administrations plan, NASA will still be responsible for the “deep” space stuff. The commercial interests are supposed to bear the responsibility for LEO missions. I expect the big technology break throughs to happen with the high risk technology development, i.e. the stuff that will full under NASA’s purview. The fruits of the high risk development will eventually be pretty public.

    As it stands, the technology employed and developments seen by the private interests are already pretty well known. There’s very little about SpaceX’s rockets that’s unknown. The same is true for Orbital Sciences rockets and Virgin Atlantic’s rockets. Work done w/ NASA has never guaranteed complete openness anyway. What’s made public and what isn’t is always governed by the terms of the individual Space Act agreements signed between NASA and each of its contractors. The details can vary a fair bit.

    I expect the increased participation of more private entities will only accelerate rocket development and the wealth of knowledge in the field, and will, as you say, lift the whole industry.

    I don’t think SpaceX will be overly concerned with their roll problem, especially as the boilerplate Dragon didn’t have its Draco thrusters to control roll, and the gimbaled Merlin engine only provides pitch and yaw control. They’ll obviously refine some parameters to minimize any residual roll as doing so will save thruster fuel, but I don’t think it’s an issue that’s a big worry.

  31. One Eyed Jack

    OK, Mr. Smartypants Sciency Guy. You can’t “prove” this was a rocket booster. Did you fly up there and take a picture? Can we see markings to indicate its origin? Do we even have a picture detailed enough to show the shape of the object? No, no, and no.

    A good scientist does not jump to conclusions. Without conclusive data, this is still a UFO. Without evidence, we must classify this as an unsolved mystery. Without proof, it’s either alien or terrestrial. It’s a 50/50 chance, so it lends as much support to the alien hypothesis as it does to your shoddy science.

    Stick that in your telescope and smoke it!

    /removing tongue from cheek

  32. @ One Eyed Jack:

    You left out the other possibility, which is that it is an application of alien technology by terrestrial (and seekrit) government agencies.

    So, the odds are really more like 50/50/50. Do the math.

    /leaving tongue in cheek (woohoo!)

  33. @One Eyed Jack: Nah, Zephram Cochrane was just drunk again.


    One Eyed Jack (#31):

    OK, Mr. Smartypants Sciency Guy. You can’t “prove” this was a rocket booster. Did you fly up there and take a picture? Can we see markings to indicate its origin? Do we even have a picture detailed enough to show the shape of the object? No, no, and no.
    A good scientist does not jump to conclusions. Without conclusive data, this is still a UFO. Without evidence, we must classify this as an unsolved mystery. Without proof, it’s either alien or terrestrial. It’s a 50/50 chance, so it lends as much support to the alien hypothesis as it does to your shoddy science.

    Yeah, right(!). So, according to your reasoning, whenever police divers recover a human corpse wearing a concrete ‘overcoat’ at the bottom of a lake, the police and the forensic scientists should “not jump to conclusions” and assume that it was a murder carried out by the local Mafia; instead, “[w]ithout evidence, we must classify this as an unsolved mystery”, because “[w]ithout proof, it’s either [murder] or [suicide]”. Therefore, “[i]t’s a 50/50 chance, so it lends as much support to the [suicide] hypothesis as it does to [forensic] shoddy science.” :roll:

  35. JupiterIsBig

    I was so disappointed to see this on the news a couple of hours later.
    I was awake before sunrise, like now, but I had the curtains closed in my east facing hotel room as I got ready for work !

  36. The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge

    Robin S. @ 25 and 27:

    Wow! is this backwards day? At 25 you just repeated exactly what I said. They control roll with that tangential exhaust pipe, not gimballing. They stopped controlling it when the engine was shut down, the pipe was still outgassing, so the stage rolled.

    At 27, again you’re saying just what I said. All this fantastic work has already been done. The workhorse Delta II and IIIs (That is, Thrust-Augmented-Thor Deltas) use a main engine as old as the small-block Chevy V8. Most of our space launchers date back to the late 50s and early 60s or are slight updates of those boosters. There have been attempts to move forward, but they’ve all been either canceled, or are abject failures. (The Space Shuttle.)

    All I hear in the press is that this is a new era of innovation now that the stifling hand of the evil gummint is off everybody’s neck. this is BS. Private contractors did all the work then, too. That work has been done. these systems are available. The Falcon 9 is absolutely reinventing the wheel. If NASA had actually built the totally reusable two-stage shuttle they planned on, or better yet, chosen the Chrysler design (SSTO H2-LOX Apollo command-module-shaped vertical-lander with aerospike nozzle) we would be in much better shape now.

    A Saturn I-class vehicle that can’t carry anything like the payload of the Saturn I because it’s crippled with a kerosene-fueled second stage already exists. It’s called Soyuz. What is the point of duplicating the boosters of 50 years ago? We need to move forward, not back. SpaceX and all these other companies are not interested in advancing the state of the art, they just want each launch to continue to cost tens of millions of dollars.

  37. Robin S

    @The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge (37): Not advancing the state of the art? I’m sorry, but for LEO missions, advancing the state of the art means learning to do the missions less expensively. That’s the goal and the point.

    Your claims about what NASA should have done don’t have any supporting proof.

    Saturn 1 class: that metric doesn’t matter. What matters is cost per unit mass to get payloads–hardware or people–to orbit. Given that, the Falcon 9 isn’t crippled at all: it’s designed to perform its mission at a given cost. It’s on pace to do that. As for Kerosene as a fuel, it was shown long ago that for liquid fuel rockets, in the first stage or two, that kerosene vs. LH2 is a wash in terms of performance metrics. For Space X, kerosene gets the job done and is cheaper than LH2 and much easier to handle. What’s wrong with that? From an engineering perspective, doing something because its “new” or “novel” or not “reinventing the wheel” is bad design if that new thing doesn’t meet the performance specs, in terms of physical performance, cost performance, and safety. So far, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, et al are meeting their design specs. You haven’t offered a single compelling reason for doing things any differently for LEO missions.

    Perhaps you should also keep in mind that nothing prevents any of these companies from employing new, more efficient, less expensive technologies later. Since you can’t see the future, we’ll just have to wait to see what happens.

    Innovation, new ideas, and slick new wheels will be part of and have to be part of any system that takes men beyond the Moon to Mars, asteroids, or where ever.

  38. The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge

    Robin S.

    Kerosene is fine for the first stage.

    “For Space X, kerosene gets the job done and is cheaper than LH2 and much easier to handle. What’s wrong with that? ”

    What’s wrong with that is that for the second stage you need a much higher specific impulse. What’s needed is an aluminum S IV-B stage, except using that Russian engine we prevented them from selling to India that delivers a vacuum specific impulse of 470. We bought Russian engines for the Atlas V, why not?

    You continue to completely miss my point. which is: systems with the same performance and cost as the Falcon 9 already exist, and have for 50 years. Why reinvent them? We need NEW technology. Technology that will not reduce the cost of putting a pound of payload into LEO by a factor of 2, but by a factor of 100 or 1000. That’s going to mean completely reusable spacecraft, maybe SSTO, maybe not (but it is very expensive to go and fish these things out of the drink and bring them back to the launch site.)

    As for what they’ll do “later”, you’ve got to be kidding. The sub-glacial pace of advancement in the fast-moving “Space Age™” means that whatever they come up with now is what we’re stuck with for the next 50 years. If not 100!

  39. Paul D.

    You continue to completely miss my point. which is: systems with the same performance and cost as the Falcon 9 already exist, and have for 50 years. Why reinvent them?

    I believe the Falcon 9 is significantly cheaper than comparable US rockets. Cost is an inherent part of engineering, just as important as performance and reliability.

    And the hydrogen vs. kerosene question is not at all obvious. Yes, hydrogen gives you higher specific impulse. It also gives you a much lower mean propellant density. Since tank mass scales with volume (and engine pump mass and required power scale with volumetric flow rate), low density is bad for the overall vehicle design.

    Compare the Atlas V and Falcon 9, which use LOX/RP-1, vs. the Delta 4, which uses LOX/LH2. The tanks on the latter are much larger.

  40. Buzz Parsec

    Robin & Battleaxe, I think you’re both a little wrong. If you saw the video from the camera on the 2nd stage, there was a small nozzle in front of and a little to the side of the main nozzle. I think this is the exhaust from the turbopump. Early in the 2nd stage burn, you could see it moving occasionally from side to side. I think this was for roll control. However, about 40 seconds in (IIRC), it went hard over to one side and then straightened out. This was the last time I saw it budge. About half way through the 2nd stage burn, it developed a slow roll (about 1/2 RPM, judging by the horizon.) After about two full rotations (3-4 minutes) it started rolling faster and by the end of the burn, I estimated it was about 2-3 RPM. What I think happened is they lost roll control (maybe an actuator failed?) and it went into a safe mode (nozzle pointing straight) for the rest of the flight.

    Battleaxe, you could be correct about the post-SECO roll being caused by excess LOX or propellant boiling off and venting either through the turbopump/roll-control nozzle or perhaps through the main engine. Or maybe through pressure relief valves in the main tanks.

    I don’t know if they are planning to provide secondary or backup roll control with the Draco thrusters (Go Slytherin!), which weren’t present on this flight (boiler-plate Dragon), but if so, what do they do when they’re launching something other than a Dragon (comsat, etc.)? On the other hand, I vaguely remember they were planning to install a set of Draco thrusters directly on the 2nd stage, to provide stabilization between and during main engine burns. I don’t recall hearing any mention of that during or after this launch.

    As for re-inventing the wheel, how often do cars break down during the Indy 500? This is like building a new car, complete with engine, from scratch, and entering it in the Indy 500 without being able to test it before hand. They should be (and are) happy just to finish!

  41. Robin S

    @30: Well, I guess you should hire yourself out to these private rocket companies. Apparently the people at SpaceX found that Kerosene works just fine for their 2nd stage, despite your overwhelming objections.

    It works. It’s cheap. It’s reliable. It’s a known quantity. Those are all great things for a rocket company, especially one breaking into a new market.

    You’ve yet to offer anything objective as to why something new and whiz bang is needed and why the KISS method isn’t satisfactory. You’re arguing with your opinion, but nothing objective is coming of that. You’ll note that SpaceX got one of the two COTS contracts. Did you not submit your designs for COTS?

    New for new’s sake is just fashion. It’s not an engineering principle, nor is it a quality of good design.

    I’ll add +1 to what Paul D (40) said.

    Lastly, if you’re looking for something to reduce the cost of getting a payload into LEO by 100x or 1000x….well, keep waiting. That’s quite a ways off. If COTS had that as a requirement, we’d have to rely completely on the Russians for ISS resupply for a very long time.

    SSTO? Really? That’s your answer for delivering personnel and cargo to LEO? I guess we don’t have to be realistic.

  42. The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge


    “SSTO? Really? That’s your answer for delivering personnel and cargo to LEO? I guess we don’t have to be realistic.

    LH2/LOX SSTO was Chrysler’s shuttle proposal from 1972! They should have gotten the contract—they could have built it. The flyboys insisted on something that could land like an airplane so they could pretend they were “flying” a Mach-25 fighter.

    Paul D. @ 40:

    Yeah, but the weight of the tankage could be reduced astronomically if we absorbed the lesson of the original Atlas from 55 years ago, with tanks that were nothing but balloons that couldn’t stand up under their own weight without internal pressure. Let gasses handle the compression loads; tensile strength is much easier to come by. Von Braun insisted on building everything like an ocean liner (out of steel, mostly) and we’ve been going backwards ever since.

  43. New Russian ICBM Design

    These spiraling rockets have all been tests of Russia’s new ICBM design that is meant to evade US missile defense systems. The aim is to spiral the missile flight as much as possible while still keeping it on course, in order to protect the missile from being intercepted with missile shield rockets.

  44. @44:

    That makes no sense. The rockets aren’t “spiraling.” The exhaust is spiraling. The rocket is just spinning.

  45. @45

    Huh? Your response is nonsensical. The ICBM is spiraling like a cork screw as it flies forward. This flight path is designed to confuse missile defense interceptors.

  46. @ 46:

    No, the missle is not “spiraling like a cork screw”. It is simply spinning around its central axis. The gas ejecting from the booster is expanding out from the rocket as it spins, creating the “corkscrew” shape that you are confusing with the path of the rocket. The rocket itself is on a simple, arced trajectory right in the middle of that corkscrew.

    Simple, yes?

  47. Mena

    This was very cool but a small part of me was thinking “Duck!”.

  48. @46
    Not that ICBM spiral like cork screws but spiralling like a cork screw would be as calculable as a normal trajectory for an interceptor. Slightly more complicated calcs but still calculable so spiralling like a cork screw like you describe seems overly complicated. You want to hit a target as fast as possible.

  49. MaDeR

    Someone would thought that existing technology (in cheape incarnaton) known to work would be better that unspecified, hazy supertechnology promised in some undetermined point in future and looking very, very good on paper.

    In other words, SpaceX basher tactic no 24c: downplaying by screaming “we want new shiny tech, not old bunk”. Please, mention something about 1964 and we all will be set.

  50. @47, @49

    I am stating a different fact than you. I am establishing that the Russian ICBM itself has been redesigned to spiral while on its main trajectory, all while maintaining controlled flight. This simple manouver, sadly, is all it really takes to out smart current projectile based hard interceptors.

  51. I am stating a different fact than you. I am establishing that the Russian ICBM itself has been redesigned to spiral while on its main trajectory, all while maintaining controlled flight.

    But, agent 51, you have not established that. All you have is conjectured that notion, but it does not fit the observations, which clearly show a spiral vapor trail left by the outgassing exhaust of a spinning rocket following a standard ballistic flight.

    Or perhaps you actually have some sort of evidence to back up your conjecture, including how, exactly, a Russian ICBM would end up flying almost due east over Australia?

  52. Eric

    Both stages of the falcon 9 exhausted their fuel within the first 15 minutes of flight. This fact absolutely rules out this formation in Australia an hour after the launch as coming from the falcon 9 or it’s engines.

  53. @ eric:
    Faulty logic. You’re assuming the “formation” is the result of the 2nd stage engine burn, as opposed to outgassing from the fuel tank following engine cut-off. (The engine was stopped…it did not “exhaust” its fuel.) The 2nd stage was spinning. It was outgassing propellent. Its flight path took it over Australia. 1 + 1 + 1 = 3.

  54. In Charge of Truth Officially

    “it moves just as you’d expect something in orbit to move. Shocking, I know.”

    Yes, this moves just like the space station and all the satellites and the moon, LaGrangian point clusters, and dropped wrenches, a shuttle every now and then, and tether cords. Yes just EXACTLY like them all.

    So glad we added clarity to this, and value. Let’s don’t even mention value. When we are “Officially in Charge of Truth” – it is all just so easy isn’t it?

    Now when the Russians had a solid rocket booster do this on Dec 9, they claimed it was all A-OK – this is how it is supposed to work. Then said, ‘whoops we lied.’

    But of course, to raise ANY objection at all to your wisdom means that I am being kidnapped by aliens and taking homeopathic sleeping pills with Psychics and Leprechauns. Another clarity about myself that you helped bring me of Official in Charge of Truth.

  55. Doug Moffett

    Still waiting 18 months later to get official confirmation from Space X that all off the factors that needed to happen, ie: leaking fuel, rotation, position etc; confirming Falcon was the culprit….Still waiting….


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