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FairAndUnbiased

Junior Member
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You can spin this anyway you want. However, here is what you cannot deny. SpaceX takes the conventional wisdom (which evolved at a time of lesser technology) and then asks whether its accurate, develops their own hypothesis and tests it to destruction. They are not afraid to watch their rockets blow up, fail to perform, have accidents, just so they can learn. In the end, the fail fast approach leads to a better system, quicker and with a new way of doing that.

They do/did all of that on their own dime. Whatever they have been awarded has happened afterwards and because of that. ULA behaves in the opposite manner; they don't design, build, test anything without the subsidy up front. That willingness to spend their own money first is why SpaceX is ahead and will stay that way.
Helps that they're a private company and won't be ridiculed if things go wrong while any failure of ULA is seen as a massive blow to US prestige itself.

As to whether they're "ahead and will stay that way" that's still an open question. Their heavy lift platform has yet to lift a rated load so until then it's all theoretical.
 

FairAndUnbiased

Junior Member
Registered Member
It is not just the payload fairing. They are upgrading the launch pad facilities at Vandenberg. Including a facility for vertical integration of satellite payloads.

As for Starship, what they are trying to do is make a rocket with really low mass fraction. This means they need to use new materials and new construction techniques. Of course that is complicated. They already tried with composites and had to give up. The steel construction in my opinion will work even if they have to reduce the rocket performance a bit. Since it is a two stage rocket it will still have a huge payload.

There is no established method of doing what they are trying to do. So of course it will involve a lot of trial and error.

Even if for whatever reason they can't get it to work as a reusable, they can just use the same technology with a smaller rocket with the same engine types, just less of them, and make it an expendable.
What they're really trying to do is a propulsive descent upper stage. Ok, with lower stage you can use grid fins to straighten the fall since it's still in the atmosphere. With an upper stage you need heat tiles and more temperature resistance for reentry. That's my understanding of why stainless was chosen. But the design itself has a flaw: it is unstable to perturbation in thrust. If you watch a SpaceX engine view videos for Starship you find that if one engine flames out, there starts to have a net torque on the rocket. The other engines attempt to gimbal to compensate but often fail and the entire thing goes up in flame. That's because with just 3 engines it's very hard to balance forces if 1 fails.

The other problem is that for propulsive descent, you need to reserve fuel fraction. But the last bit of fuel gets you further than the first bit of fuel, since the last bit of fuel doesn't have to carry as much other fuel, just payload. With an upper stage, that is even worse, as both the lower stage and upper stage reserve fuel fraction eats into payload.
 

FairAndUnbiased

Junior Member
Registered Member
ULA is also private company, fwiw.
its image is closely entwined with NASA and the US government as a major defense contractor, with the US government as the major customer, receiving US government subsidies and building to US government specifications.

If someone said Boeing and LM are completely private entities that have nothing to do with the US government they'd be ridiculed.

Any failure on the part of ULA is a huge blow to US prestige and makes people question their entire competence just like how people question China as a whole if a single CALT rocket doesn't perform 100% to specification like with the LM-5 heavy lift second stage deorbiting.
 

gelgoog

Captain
Registered Member
What they're really trying to do is a propulsive descent upper stage. Ok, with lower stage you can use grid fins to straighten the fall since it's still in the atmosphere. With an upper stage you need heat tiles and more temperature resistance for reentry. That's my understanding of why stainless was chosen. But the design itself has a flaw: it is unstable to perturbation in thrust. If you watch a SpaceX engine view videos for Starship you find that if one engine flames out, there starts to have a net torque on the rocket. The other engines attempt to gimbal to compensate but often fail and the entire thing goes up in flame. That's because with just 3 engines it's very hard to balance forces if 1 fails.

The other problem is that for propulsive descent, you need to reserve fuel fraction. But the last bit of fuel gets you further than the first bit of fuel, since the last bit of fuel doesn't have to carry as much other fuel, just payload. With an upper stage, that is even worse, as both the lower stage and upper stage reserve fuel fraction eats into payload.

The Starship has those tiny wings to reduce the amount of fuel required to get to the landing site. Like I said it isn't easy to do. They are basically trying to do the Space Shuttle again like originally planned but with more modern technology. It remains to be seen if it will work. But unlike the Shuttle, their tooling and engines are easily usable on an expendable. In case the whole thing fails they can just use an expendable upper stage. If they can't get the engines to work reliably to make that huge lower stage, they can make a Falcon 9 replacement and still be profitable. The Shuttle was basically a cost reduced prototype of a "reusable" TSTO with all sorts of compromises which aren't being done here.
 

FairAndUnbiased

Junior Member
Registered Member
The Starship has those tiny wings to reduce the amount of fuel required to get to the landing site. Like I said it isn't easy to do. They are basically trying to do the Space Shuttle again like originally planned but with more modern technology. It remains to be seen if it will work. But unlike the Shuttle, their tooling and engines are easily usable on an expendable. In case the whole thing fails they can just use an expendable upper stage. If they can't get the engines to work reliably to make that huge lower stage, they can make a Falcon 9 replacement and still be profitable. The Shuttle was basically a cost reduced prototype of a "reusable" TSTO with all sorts of compromises which aren't being done here.
We'll see. At this point SpaceX (and Tesla for that matter) is basically too big to fail and has become part of the invincibility mythos of the US. But in reality nothing is too big to fail, it just fails in different ways. An invincibility mythos is ironically fragile because all it takes to shatter the hegemony is to expose just a few aspects as ineffectual. People will then start questioning everything.

Once shattered it will take years of anger, defeat and disappointment to recover from in the best of cases just like how 2008 shattered the myth of US financial invincibility and prosperity. That is if recovery is possible at all.

Anything short of exactly what was promised and recorded should be mercilessly ridiculed as absolute humiliation and failure - which it is. Exposing the invincibility mythos is bravery.
 

gelgoog

Captain
Registered Member
It is not that SpaceX are too big to fail. It is just that they iterate on problems quickly enough and have enough capital not to worry about failing until they succeed. Look at Falcon 1, it had four launch failures. The Falcon 5 got cancelled and never flew. The Falcon 1 also got cancelled due to lack of demand. The Falcon 9 looks nothing like the first version. Their first launch pad was at Vandenberg, then they almost never used it, and now they have to rebuild it all again because it isn't appropriate for their current missions or vehicles.

With regards to Tesla, they had massive issues getting production of the Model 3 to scale, but they figured it out enough that the Shanghai factory scaled just great. A lot of their proposed future product line is vapor and I doubt it will turn out as promised but they are still kicking the other luxury entry brands like Audi just fine to the point electric vehicles aren't considered just a pipe dream anymore. Once production at Shanghai, Berlin, and Texas is going they'll kick the luxury brands in the middle of the market to the curb.

The Chinese vendors like BYD have a major chance to get into this market. I especially like BYD because they have been in this market for a really long time, before Tesla ever got to mean anything, and they have a vertically integrated enterprise, moreso than Tesla. If they can cut the cost down and produce enough cars I think they can easily undercut them. Brands like BMW or Mercedes I think are in for a heck of a hurt.
 

panzerfeist1

New Member
Registered Member
Besides trying to launch a huge methane rocket and launch current existing kerosene rockets does the company have anything else going for them?
 

gelgoog

Captain
Registered Member
There is Starlink. I think it is going to be a bust unless the US DoD funds it just like what happened with Iridium though.
 

FairAndUnbiased

Junior Member
Registered Member
It is not that SpaceX are too big to fail. It is just that they iterate on problems quickly enough and have enough capital not to worry about failing until they succeed. Look at Falcon 1, it had four launch failures. The Falcon 5 got cancelled and never flew. The Falcon 1 also got cancelled due to lack of demand. The Falcon 9 looks nothing like the first version. Their first launch pad was at Vandenberg, then they almost never used it, and now they have to rebuild it all again because it isn't appropriate for their current missions or vehicles.

With regards to Tesla, they had massive issues getting production of the Model 3 to scale, but they figured it out enough that the Shanghai factory scaled just great. A lot of their proposed future product line is vapor and I doubt it will turn out as promised but they are still kicking the other luxury entry brands like Audi just fine to the point electric vehicles aren't considered just a pipe dream anymore. Once production at Shanghai, Berlin, and Texas is going they'll kick the luxury brands in the middle of the market to the curb.

The Chinese vendors like BYD have a major chance to get into this market. I especially like BYD because they have been in this market for a really long time, before Tesla ever got to mean anything, and they have a vertically integrated enterprise, moreso than Tesla. If they can cut the cost down and produce enough cars I think they can easily undercut them. Brands like BMW or Mercedes I think are in for a heck of a hurt.
they're basically blowing up massive amounts of capital for little gain with Starship which is massive destruction of value. I guess with the amount of money they're burning and throwing in the trash they'll get... something... operational... eventually. However I think it is possible that CZ-9 will launch a successful, full rated payload before Starship does.

BYD already is highly profitable, has Warren Buffet's backing and is completely vertically integrated from semiconductor to battery to EV. They have a commercial EV program that is already better than Tesla's. Unfortunately BYD doesn't have the lifestyle marketing that Tesla does in consumer vehicles, nor the cult of personality that Musk commands.
 

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