SpaceX reveals plans for heavy lift rocket

By Phil Plait | April 5, 2011 2:30 pm

The privately owned commercial rocket company SpaceX has just revealed the design for their next generation rocket: the Falcon Heavy. It will be able to lift a whopping 53 tons to low-Earth (200 km, 120 mile) orbit — for comparison, Hubble Space Telescope has a mass of 11 tons — or lighter payloads to higher orbit or escape velocity.

I am an unabashed fan of SpaceX, mostly because they’ve proven their worth. The Falcon 1 and 9 rockets have had successful launches, and the company itself has shown to be flexible and respond rapidly to problems during the launch sequence (after losing a Falcon 1, they successfully launched another one only two months later). They’re still young and only have a few launches under their belt, but I think they have a pretty good future ahead of them.

This heavy-lift vehicle is still in the planning stages (you can watch a fun animation of a launch on the SpaceX site), but is based on technology SpaceX has already shown to work (with the caveat that the engines are based on an upgrade to the flight-tested Merlin engines). If it goes as planned, it will be the highest-thrust rocket on Earth with twice the thrust of the Delta IV at only a third of the cost per payload: $1000/pound to orbit, which is very roughly 1/10th the cost of using the Space Shuttle. We’ll see if these numbers hold up, but the rocket looks very promising.

I’m a big fan of our government using private companies to launch payloads to orbit and beyond. We spend a lot of money on that right now, and SpaceX has a real shot at saving the government quite a bit of that money. It’s too early to tell here, but I’m very hopeful that the future of the space program here in America is actually pretty bright in the middle-near term.


Related posts:

SpaceX to launch Dragon Capsule December 7 (2010)
SpaceX to launch Falcon 9 at 1500 UT today (June 2010)
Falcon 1 launch a success!
Oh those Falcon UFOs!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Space

Comments (59)

  1. Awesome! Elon Musk is busy writing history and it freaking rocks to be around to witness it happen. That guy has big ol’ brass ones. Respect!

  2. puppygod

    Over 50 tons? Sweet. Just twenty of these babies, some EVA assembly work and I can have my own orbital base.

    I think I’m gonna need a bigger piggy bank, though.

  3. Tom

    I’ve been feeling pretty grumpy about the US space program lately, but reading this is really giving me some hope for the program again!
    So, Elon can have this ready late 2012, and NASA can’t have something by 2016? I guess the private guys are proving themselves. But we still have to see Falcon Heavy fly, but SpaceX is proving they can get things flying! :-)

    T.

  4. Will SpaceX be viable though? Will the economics allow for one or more commercial space enterprises?

  5. I wonder if they need a program manager? I would love to have an opportunity to work with these guys!

    I take it that the Saturn V (successful) thrust record will still stand for a while (3.8 v 7.5 million pounds according to google). Although I suppose the Russian N1 would count as the record holder if it had ever actually launched anything.

    Still, this is some awesome news! You go Elon!

  6. Jean-Denis

    Ariane ES can put 21 t in orbit at 300 km. How does this compare to 53t at 200km?

  7. DocM

    For the record, ifMerlin 2 becomes operational they have plans for Falcon X, X Heavy and XX – the last lofting 140 metric tons woth 10.2 million lb-ft of thrudt.

    THAT would be a sight to behold, but I recommend ear protection for anyone south of the Alabama line for KSC launches.

  8. MarvinTpA

    Saturn V still remains king. And this is a far cry from the 188t to LEO planned for Ares V. Still somewhat cool I guess.

  9. Even better, they are building it to be capable of launching humans!

  10. Mike Mullen

    4. badengineer Says:

    Will SpaceX be viable though? Will the economics allow for one or more commercial space enterprises?

    ==============================================

    They are already viable courtesy of the Iridium contract, plus various other launches on the books including one of the Lunar X-Prize contenders.

  11. Mike Mullen

    8. MarvinTpA Says:

    Saturn V still remains king. And this is a far cry from the 188t to LEO planned for Ares V. Still somewhat cool I guess.

    ==========================================

    Very cool because of that other F9H figure, a $1000 a pound. Bringing down the cost of launching a payload may be more important for the long term future of manned spaceflight than being able to launch really large payloads in one go.

  12. NegativeK

    27 motors? That’s pushing toward the 30 of the Soviet N1 rocket, which turned out to be a miserable failure.

    Of course, technology has advanced a little since then. ;)

  13. UmTutSut

    I’d have a lot more confidence in Elon’s 2013 first flight prediction if Falcon 9 had more than two launches to its credit. It often seems as if when Elon Musk speaks, healthy skepticism is relegated to the orbit of Pluto. I hope Space X succeeds for the sake of the program, but rocket launching is a risky business. Just my .02 zlotys.

  14. HP

    Am I the only one reminded of D.D. Harriman?

  15. CB

    Bringing down the cost of launching a payload may be more important for the long term future of manned spaceflight than being able to launch really large payloads in one go.

    Price/mass is definitely more important to the long-term future, and may even prove this soon if the remnants of Constellation and the current frenzy over budgets don’t gut the attempt. We’ll be a lot more likely to go to the Moon, or Mars, and do much more there, if we can launch a vessel in pieces, assemble it in space, launch the fuel up separately, and crew and supplies too, all on economical launchers, than if we had to blast the entire kit-and-caboodle on one huge rocket.

    IMO of course, but really, do you think we could ever send something like The Discovery from 2001 to another world if we had to lift the whole thing from earth?

    Cost from earth to LEO is the #1 obstacle to the space exploration and the future we all dreamed of as a kid.

  16. eia1957

    Gotta love this company. All their primary stats are in metric! Makes it easier to compare to the competition…

  17. Berserker

    “We spend a lot of money on that right now, and SpaceX has a real shot at saving the government quite a bit of that money.”

    I work for a Federal contractor. I can say to you all that the government is not at all interested in saving money, because doling out money is how you buy votes and power.

  18. Messier Tidy Upper

    Good luck to them – I hope we see it actually fly. :-)

  19. Messier Tidy Upper

    I will say one more thing about this – I’m sick of seeing plans and animations of projects yet to come. I want to see some concrete action and some of these candles built and lit not just discussed.

  20. Ed

    I love news like this. And I love Space X, got to visit their site, it’s amazing how they build in a warehouse, it’s awesome.

  21. Messier Tidy Upper

    I think the notion of a reuseable spaceplane capable of carrying significant cargo and passengers into orbit is a good one – are any of the space companies working on anything similar to the Shuttle? Or the Hermes design :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermes_(spaceplane)

    among others?

    I know NASA has tried the X-38:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_X-38

    and USAF has the X-37 b :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_X-37

    But both those are a lot smaller and not sure how much they’ll be able to achieve.

    I’d like to think the Space Shuttle was the start of something, the first in a long line of similar even better spacecraft, rather than just a dead end.

  22. Sadly, my coin-operated Senator calls these people “hobbyists.”

  23. MadScientist

    SpaceX seems to be fast-tracking all its development; I hope they’re not being spread too thin. The Falcon9 is basically the first successful rocket they’ve had, but there have only been two test flights and no commercial flights. If I’m not mistaken, a third test flight is still required before NASA will sign a contract for an operational launch. In short, SpaceX still have a hell of a lot to do on the plain Falcon9 and while the expected announcement of the heavy version is exciting, at the moment SpaceX essentially doesn’t have any products or services to sell yet. Well, OK, people have signed up for Falcon-1, but that will always be a small niche because the payload capacity is quite simply too small. I don’t see a big market in ‘nanosatellites’ in low earth orbit.

  24. Looks pretty cool. I think Reaction Engines’ Skylon spaceplane is cooler though. A single stage to orbit reusable spaceplane, admittedly still some years away from reality. Best of all, it’s British!

  25. I would like to see a comparison for these different launch vehicles for a 400 km orbit, not a 200 km orbit. Bringing 52 tons to 200 km altitude (this is well below the orbital altitude of the ISS) is not quite useful – it would be back to earth within days or at best weeks.

    So: how does the rocket perform to higher altitudes, compared to the competition? Would it be capable to launch into GTO? And if yes, how many tons?

  26. Nigel Depledge

    Negative K (12) said:

    27 motors? That’s pushing toward the 30 of the Soviet N1 rocket, which turned out to be a miserable failure.

    Of course, technology has advanced a little since then.

    Agreed.

    I am concerned that they might encounter an issue similar to that of the N-1, which (IIUC) failed because of vibrations or shock waves in the fuel system supplying so many motors.

    Still, I guess that SpaceX will have CFD* at their disposal, a technique that was not available in the ’60s.

    * Computational Fluid Dynamics

  27. MarcusBailius

    Looks good, if only for the fact that there are no horribly-vibrating solid rockets involved. Liquid-fuelled rockets lend important safety factors. Good luck to them!

  28. Santiago

    @25 and @12:

    The configuration of the Falcon 9 Heavy is more like 9X3 engines rather than the 30X1 configuration of the N1. It would be better to imagine the Falcon 9 Heavy as three rockets with 9 engines each tied together, each core having its own independent tanks, pumps, plumbing etc. This should make it tremendously simpler than the N1 even if they have a comparable number of engines.

  29. Nigel Depledge

    @ Santiago (27) –
    Yeah, I noticed on a closer examination of the drawing that it looked like three Falcon9-style rockets tied together.

  30. Ingenieur Electricien

    Santiago @28 and Nigel @29:

    What’s very interesting is that the press reports say that this design includes cross-feed of fuel (and oxidizer, I assume) from the boosters to the core so that the core is full and the boosters are empty at booster separation. Doing some quick math shows me that this means that each booster will be pumping fuel and LOX into the core at 1/2 the rate at which it’s sending the stuff to the engines. Since you have two boosters pumping fuel/LOX at 1/2 the burn rate, the core fuel and LOX tanks will be continuously topped off until separation. Very clever idea. Technically, feeding stuff from one part of a stack to another is not new; the shuttle used feeds from the external tank to the orbiter. This, however, is a different setup, has never been tried before (AFAIK), and so there is some development risk. They will not be able to simply tie three Falcon 9 first stages together to do this. I also surmise that they need to have some kind of feedback control mechanism so that the pumps on the boosters can continuously adjust their rates so as not to overfill the tanks in the core or create overpressure in the lines. Designing that control system would be a fun problem to solve!

  31. Elmar_M

    First of all, this is an awesome announcement by SpaceX. It really shows the path that NASA should persue in the future. This is fast and efficient development.

    @23 MadScientist.
    I dont know what you are talking about! Falcon 9 was not their first successful rocket. Falcon 1 had several successful flights. Falcon 9 also has several customers already. They just signed another big deal with a huge client. So I dont know where you get the idea that Falcon9 has no customers?
    Please have a look at their launch manifest here:
    http://www.spacex.com/launch_manifest.php

    SpaceX has several Falcon 9 launches for Orbcom between 2011 and 2014.
    And another launch for MDA Corp this year.
    After 2012 there are many flights for many commercial customers…
    So you info is absolutely wrong.
    Falcon Heavy does not have any commercial clients yet, but Falcon Heavy has not even had a testflight yet (has only just been announced).
    From what I understand SpaceX is already profitable, btw.

  32. Tropicaldan

    This is all well and good, as long as these private companies don’t help the Chinese, Iranians, N. Koreans, et al with launching their wares into orbit. Like with any capitalistic entity, it can be tempting to cave in to greed and quickly become an industrial prostitute; at the demise of our national security. So with the hand-off of these kinds of missions to private enterprise, comes responsibility, and hopefully, careful government oversight.

  33. jfb

    Elon’s quickly becoming the Steve Jobs of the space launch industry, in both the good and bad ways. This is a cool announcement, but there’s a bit of a Reality Distortion Field at play here. They not only have to build the rocket, they have to build a new pad infrastructure for it, and may have to create a different integration workflow (the F9 is integrated horizontally, but there’s a question whether that will work for the kinds of payloads the FH is going to lift).

    The other part of the FH that’s raised eyebrows is that propellent will be cross-fed between the cores, meaning the two outer cores burn out and stage before the center core, which will still be mostly full (effectively making it a three-stage rocket, but with only one air-start). That’s probably not going to happen for the first couple of shakedown flights, meaning they’re not going to hit that 53,000 kg target for a while.

    Not to mention that 4 successful flights (2 F1, 2 F9) isn’t much of a track record.

    But…

    The FH is going to use three F9 cores, two of which have successfully flown. It does require an upgraded engine, but prototypes are being tested at McGregor right now, and this is one area where SpaceX has proven itself multiple times over (although I suppose for the first launch or so they could use the current Merlin, just to shake out the cross-feed issues; now that I think about it, that would be the saner approach).

    I’m a little skeptical of the timetable, given the delays behind the first F9 launch (and because the need for a new pad infrastructure). However, I’m optimistic that when this sucker does actually launch, it will work.

  34. Elmar_M

    jfb, from what I understand, the cross- feeding would enable a even larger payload (60 tons I believe). The 53 tons are without crossfeeding, AFAIK.
    I also understand that they wont do the cross- feeding on their first flight.

  35. Ok, I have to say that video was very very much reminescent of C&C Red Alert videos. The music was definitely in line too. I like it. Becuase of that alone, they have my support. I guess it’s good that they’re lifting heavy things awesomely into space for less dollars than before, but whatever. Red Alert man…

  36. CB

    I’m a little skeptical of the timetable, given the delays behind the first F9 launch (and because the need for a new pad infrastructure). However, I’m optimistic that when this sucker does actually launch, it will work.

    Yeah me too. Frankly I never believe the actual dates they present, but rather use them as a guideline where in a best-case where there aren’t any severe issues requiring major redesign, the rocket might fly a year or two after the stated date. :)

    I am heartened that the Heavy has really one major innovation over just gluing 3 F9s together, rather than say being some super-ambitious project to make a brand new heavy lifter. From my 10km view it seems like the right level of risk vs reward to shoot for.

    Someone up above mentioned reusable vehicles. I really love the idea, but I’m not sure it will pan out in practice. The only part of the Shuttle that’s reused wasthe orbiter; IIRC the SRB shells were supposed to be reusable but it ended up being totally not worth dragging them up from the ocean floor. But in a sane world the Shuttle orbiter would be a crew capsule for manned missions or a cargo bin. Either of which might be reusable, but don’t really account for most of the rocket.

  37. Michael

    You mean a private company working in the free market can produce a product cheaper than a government bureaucracy? Who knew!?!?

    (of course for all I know SpaceX is receiving government subsidies which would mean its not a free market)

  38. Elmar_M

    I am all for reusable launch vehicles as well and Elon at least wants to reuse the first stage, which is some reusability. I hope that once they have a solid record of launches, enough revenue and a good amount of experience and very mature technology, they will go for a fully reusable vehicle. An RLV would have much less payload, but it could still be cheaper.
    In any case, they have sparked a lot of competition with this announcement. Competition is good. The market will do the rest. I hope that NASA and the US government do the right thing to fuel this competition instead of drowning it with government funded rockets that are built with expensive cost plus contracts.
    SpaceX has already cut launch costs by so much in so little time, imagine what the situation could look like in 10 years from now?

    I agree with CB, btw, the shuttle was “refurbishable” not reusable. It was a compromised design, based on to stringent requirements. Those requirements were of course brought on by the government. Which is why the government should not design rockets. Someone should tell that to the US congressmen Shelby, Nelson, Hutch and co. Their SLS (I call it the “senate launch system”) is going to result in another design like the shuttle was.
    Few flights, expensive, large standing army, etc.
    But that is what they want anyway, since to them it is only another jobs program. They dont even care if it ever gets built as long as the contracts with their lobbyists get paid (yes ATK, we know who you are).
    SpaceX got very little money from the US government. Definitely less than most other US rocket companies and they actually had to deliver something for that money. A novum…

  39. Calli Arcale

    Whether it flies or not, this is very awesome. I have a certain penchant for really freakin’ big things, and this is a really freakin’ big thing. I hope it flies.

  40. Jack

    “So, Elon can have this ready late 2012, and NASA can’t have something by 2016? I guess the private guys are proving themselves.”

    I hate this type of stuff, which implies there’s some sort of competition between NASA and private companies. NASA has been helping SpaceX since day one.

  41. jfb

    SpaceX has already cut launch costs by so much in so little time, imagine what the situation could look like in 10 years from now?

    Given that SpaceX has only launched one paying customer so far (RazakSAT), can we say that they’ve really brought costs down yet?

  42. gss_000

    I’m highly skeptical of these dates, and so should anyone with any familiar with SpaceX or aerospace. It falls in that dreaded “18 months to 2 years” rage of project limbo. Falcon 9 was supposed to be launching more often by now and while it’s great what Musk has done, 4 launches total with his rockets and 3 failures is not a fantastic track record to base things on, no matter what the last success was. Remember, Musk is famous for saying he’d get out of the business if the Falcon 1 didn’t launch by the third try and he had to eat his words. He does push the boundaries, but I’m surprised how people are just accepting everything he says.

    Plus, the numbers don’t make sense, although I wish they would. Check out:

    http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20110406/NEWS02/104060341/With-Falcon-Heavy-SpaceX-vows-sweet-ride-an-even-sweeter-price

    Musk would need a launch rate that I don’t think will happen in today’s satellite market and a rocket engine production equal to the rest of the world’s. Right.

    As for NASA’s heavy lift (the one Congress asked them to make but is highly debated now), it’s not competition. From that same article:

    “That vehicle is authorized to carry between 70-130 metric tons to orbit,” the company said in a news release. “SpaceX agrees with the need to develop a vehicle of that class as the best way to conduct a large number of human missions to Mars.”

    That’s something I think a lot of commercial space supporters would not have suspected. I’m on the fence if we need it now, and I don’t like asking for a rocket and then not funding it. We’ve been there before.

    Overall, I want SpaceX to succeed but saying this will come in 2 years is a late April Fools joke. It’ll be later and probably more expensive than what is said, although I think it will lower costs some at least.

  43. gss_000

    Oh, and I hate this “jobs program” argument. Every project is a jobs program for whatever state it’s based out of. You think California and New Mexico are favoring commercial space becuase it won’t generate jobs in their locations? That’s life for aerospace no matter the company.

    As for reusability, Falcon 9 has not shown itself to be reusable yet, IIRC. It’s first stage hasn’t been recovered in a launch yet (please correct me if I’m wrong). We criticize the shuttle for over promising yet take SpaceX at its word when it’s had a few spectacular successes. I’m not encouraged either by the lack of launches for the Falcon 1 (retired for the Falcon 1e), with two years since the last launch. Again, I think they will lower costs but right now we all should be more dubious of any claims. We’ve been down this path before (see EELV as well).

  44. ND

    Shouldn’t SpaceX needs to launch, oh I don’t know, at least 10 successful Falcon 9s before they can brag. There needs to be some statistically significant number of successes no? They would be compared systems such as Ariane 4 & 5 and Soyuz.

  45. Elmar_M

    The SLS is not needed for these missions. There are studies that show that these missions can be done with existing launchers as well. Besides the SLS has not flown even once yet and IMHO it will never fly. The job program argument is valid as the SLS will not achieve anything and will most likely never even fly once. All it will do is lower the confidence in private space and reduce the number of launches private space would get to do (even if it never flies it will, because it will drain budget from NASA missions that could have flown on the commercial launchers).
    Also, SpaceX has already many paying customers, that ARE getting their launches at the prices that SpaceX is claiming. If any of you had bothered to read the launch manifest, you would see that they already have launches with PAYING customers set all through 2017…

  46. gss_000

    Oh, one last thing. We’re focusing on just SpaceX when talking about launch costs. Two items that bear keeping in mind:

    1) Launch costs for rockets have actually gone up if you look at NASA’s recent Launch Services contract. There was a sharp increase in the cost of the contract, which I think SpaceX was a part of. This was in part due to uncertainty in aerospace becuase of the budget and NASA so there are other factors then just the rocket itself

    2) Look at the debate in the satellite operators vs launch providers. While operators probably are very excited by this news, other launch service providers aren’t and it isn’t just becuase of competition. They worry there will be a glut on the market with ILS, Arianespace (they now also are going to have the new Soyuz and Vega launching from French Guiana), India’s PLSV and GLSV, China, not to mention the return of Sea Launch and now SpaceX. The concern is there will be a crash with too many providers. It’s an interesting debate.

  47. gss_000

    @45. Elmar_M

    Please. You need to keep up with Space News. If you look at the news from that publication, you’ll see that just because a launch is on a manifest means nothing. There’s a lot of instances where companies change providers due to delays.

    And you need to look at the spec of the SLS. Forget about whether it’s needed now, that’s different, but SpaceX itself said its not competing with its systems. That’s a whole different class of rocket. It’s not the same.

    And you can’t say SpaceX got little money from the government. Without government money, there’d be no SpaceX. The NASA COTS program kept the program going when it initially failed to launch. And the manifest you tout? Look at it…it’s all government contracts with a few commercial launches interspersed. NASA money is getting the company to where it needs to be. Nothing wrong with that. But let’s not make it out like it did this all on its own.

  48. Elmar_M

    @gss_ooo
    I am very up to date with space news, thanks.
    I am also very aware of the specs of the SLS. However you are obviously not quite up to date on the studies conducted on whether it is needed for certain missions or not. I am familiar with the HEFT study, but that has been refuted lately from many sides.
    The cost for ULA launches went up, yes, but ULA is not all the launch providers there, are they?
    The manifest is NOT all government contracts! What are you talking about?!!
    There are SEVERAL commercial customers, all of them with several flights.
    The COTS money only accelerated things, but the program did not “initially fail to launch”.
    Where are you getting all this from?!
    I dont quite know what you get from spreading such missinformation, but I do have my suspicions.

  49. Nigel Depledge

    Elmar_M (31) said:

    @23 MadScientist.
    I dont know what you are talking about! Falcon 9 was not their first successful rocket. Falcon 1 had several successful flights. Falcon 9 also has several customers already. They just signed another big deal with a huge client. So I dont know where you get the idea that Falcon9 has no customers?

    Quite obviously, MadScientist was not counting Falcon 1 because its capacity is so small. This is clear from the context of the comment.

    Also, MS did not say they had no customers for Falcon9, (s)he said they had no product to sell because it has only had 2 flights. That’s a different thing.

  50. Nigel Depledge

    Tropicaldan (32) said:

    This is all well and good, as long as these private companies don’t help the Chinese, Iranians, N. Koreans, et al with launching their wares into orbit. Like with any capitalistic entity, it can be tempting to cave in to greed and quickly become an industrial prostitute; at the demise of our national security. So with the hand-off of these kinds of missions to private enterprise, comes responsibility, and hopefully, careful government oversight.

    What?

    In what way does launching satellites for other nations compromise national security? And if foreign satellites can compromise national security, then the USA – by having more satellites up there than anyone else – has been compromising everyone else’s national security for years.

    Also, there are thousands of satellites in LEO and GEO, launched by at least 6 or 7 separate organisations. Including the Chinese (were you not aware that they have their own space programme?).

  51. Elmar_M

    ITAR prevents US rocket and space companies from selling their technology to other nations (even friendly nations).
    This is actually a huge problem for the competitiveness of US space companies. Other nations dont impose such restrictions on their companies and this is why Ariane space and the Russians get a lot of customers.
    Soon it will also be the Indians and the Chinese.
    Of course, being European, I could not care less ;)
    Nigel, I dont think I missunderstood Madscientist at all. He said clearly that SpaceX has no product or service to sell, which is clearly wrong, as they have been selling Falcon9 launches for a while now and quite successfully. He also referred to them only having Falcon1 and that being a niche market. This is also not correct. Most of their Falcon 1 clients have since switched to rides on Falcon 9 as secondary payloads (is cheaper).

  52. Nigel Depledge

    @ Elmar_M (51) –

    Hmmm … I think we might be splitting hairs a bit.

    What they are selling is future launches on a rocket that is not yet certified. In that sense, they do have a service to sell.

    However, in terms of having an off-the-shelf product / service, Falcon 9 is not yet ready to fly commercially and Falcon 1 is too darn small. This is not to detract from the achievement that SpaceX is making. I just think you came down too hard on MadScientist for that comment.

  53. Elmar_M

    How can you say that it is not ready to fly commercially? What is missing?
    They are selling services, they have signed contracts and plenty of that.
    They do not need any further testflights for commercial operation. All they need is testflights for NASA/COTS, but that is a whole different matter and only applies to NASA, not to other commercial flights.
    I dont get it.

  54. Nigel Depledge

    Erm … they have had only 2 successful F9 launches.

    Would you risk a satellite costing millions on a launch system with such a short track record?

    (Actually, I suppose I would, if the saving were of the same order as the value of the satellite, so that kind-of answres that).

  55. Elmar_M

    Nigel, that is what insurances are for. Every launch on a Falcon 9 (or other launcher) is insured by an insurance company. The risk of flying with the LV contributes to the amount you have to pay. AFAIK, the difference in price for the insurance for a launch with Falcon9 is much less than the cost difference for the launch.
    2 successful launches of 2 launches is a pretty good record, IMHO. Ariane 5 did not have that and AFAIK it turned out to be the most successful commercial launcher to date.
    Ariane 5 had paying customers on each and every single one of its flights.

  56. Mike Mullen

    54. Nigel Depledge Says:

    Erm … they have had only 2 successful F9 launches.

    Would you risk a satellite costing millions on a launch system with such a short track record?

    ===========================================

    Well apparently the people at Iridium would:

    http://investor.iridium.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=479890

  57. Ferris VAlyn

    Messier Tidy Upper, and others asking about spaceplanes

    Near term – Dream Chaser on an Atlas V

    Longer term – look to the suborbital guys

    And who says you need wings to be reusable?

  58. Elmar_M

    In a recent interview Elon Musk stated that a fully reusable launch vehicle is their long term goal (I had already thought so, but it is good to hear it from the horses mouth).
    I like that. I think that once they have fully evolved their expendables, they will apply their experience to reusability by sacrificing some of the payload, but gaining a fully reusable system (or by building an even larger rocket).

  59. Messier Tidy Upper

    @57. Ferris VAlyn & ^ Elmar_M : Thanks – belated but sincere. :-)

    As for “needing wings” for reusability – dunno, capsules just seem throwaway by their very nature I guess & wings are cool – if they can do reusability with an un-winged craft then great. But I do like my spaceplanes! ;-)

    (Not that I actually own any – just wish I could.)

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