back to article Cocky SpaceX will try another sea landing with next rocket launch

Elon Musk's SpaceX team is going to make another attempt at landing a Falcon rocket at sea, despite already proving their point on land. Lars Blackmore, principal rocket landing engineer for SpaceX, confirmed on Twitter that the Musketeers will be going for a water landing after the next Falcon launch, which is currently …

  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    They land back to earh requires an ungodly amount of fuel

    Returning back to launch point requires an ungodly amount of fuel. Just have a look at the launch and landing curves on the photos from the last launch and give a thought on how much delta-V did the rocket have to counter to come back.

    That amount of fuel may not be available for a lot of launches. For high orbit or large payload launches the first stage will have just the fuel to maneuver and land. So in that case they need the sea landing. It is not a "show off", it is a necessity.

    1. Swiss Anton

      Re: They land back to earh requires an ungodly amount of fuel

      Unless your launch pad is Vandenberg AFB and your landing pad is on the dried lake bed east of Edwards. Its the turning around from a Florida lift-off that is expensive, not the landing on terra firma.

      1. mtakala82

        Re: They land back to earh requires an ungodly amount of fuel

        Launching towards East from the West Coast is not possible for any launcher, as flight over populated area is prohibited. Any mishaps would be dangerous!

        West Coast launches are performed generally towards directions in between South and West which enable polar orbiting flights and retrograde orbits. Flying to those orbits is not possible from the East Coast (Florida) because exactly the same reasons.

        The SpaceX-assigned Landing Pad next to the launch pad at the west coast is currently occupied by a temporary building in where SpaceX is doing something that has not been revealed yet.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: They land back to earh requires an ungodly amount of fuel

        Landing the rocket doesn't necessarily imply you couldn't use a drogue chute to help shed velocity on the way down. I'm sure there are plenty of optimizations they'll be able to do to minimize launch cost, but first they have to successfully land enough times to know they've got that licked.

        Doing it once is nice, but there are various things that can happen during the landing attempt as far as different conditions with wind, humidity, temperature, etc. so they can't claim to have really licked it yet. Landing on the sea adds a bit of extra difficulty due to the motion of the waves and having nothing to deflect the low level winds, but if you can do that repeatedly then landing on land would be a breeze by comparison.

        Anyway, extra fuel is cheaper than building new rockets from scratch every time...

        1. Dave Walker

          Re: They land back to earh requires an ungodly amount of fuel

          Instead of drogue chutes Space-X use "supersonic grid fins" that look kind of like fly swatters to slow down the booster. You can see them at the top of the booster.

    2. Dave Harvey

      Re: They land back to earh requires an ungodly amount of fuel

      Not THAT much fuel - the delta-V is large, but the mass is hugely less than at take-off (basically just the tank and engines - no 2nd stage, and little fuel), so the delta-momentum is greatly reduced.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: They land back to earh requires an ungodly amount of fuel

        TFW you remember the first time your read about "Delta-v" in the novelization of "2001 - A Space Odyssey" back in the 70s.

        "At the moment my closest approach is sixty miles; it will increase to about a hundred as Japetus rotates beneath me, then drop back to zero. I'll pass directly over the thing in thirty days – but that's too long to wait, and then it will be in darkness, anyway.

        "Even now, it's only in sight for a few minutes before it falls below the horizon again. It's damn frustrating – I can't make any serious observations.

        "So I'd like your approval of this plan. The space pods have ample delta vee for a touchdown and a return to the ship. I want to go extravehicular and make a close survey of the object. If it appears safe, I'll land beside it – or even on top of it.

        "The ship will still be above my horizon while I'm going down, so I won't be out of touch for more than ninety minutes.

        'Tm convinced that this is the only thing to do. I've come a billion miles – I don't want to be stopped by the last sixty."

        1. Ashley_Pomeroy

          Re: They land back to earh requires an ungodly amount of fuel

          Which raises a potential problem - what if the platform turns out to be a hyperspace gateway to the far corners of the universe? The rocket will land on the platform and immediately red-shift into oblivion. Elon Musk will have egg on his face.

          Its last transmission will be something in binary that translates as "my god, it's full of fish".

  2. Vulch

    They've got permission for RTLS at Cape Canaveral on the east coast. The Jason 3 launch is going from Vandenberg on the west coast though which may not be covered yet.

    1. Vulch

      Ah, and of course it's using the last of the basic Falcon 9 v1.1 first stages so is more restricted on fuel and thrust for an RTLS.

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      As far as I know, the only landing zone SpaceX has is at KSC. All they have at Vandenberg is one launch pad.

      1. Known Hero

        SpaceX has is at KSC.

        KSC ??

        I got the first two words "Kerbal Space" But not sure about the third

    3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      I don't understand why they're not licenced to take off and land over Las Vegas.

      In the worst case scenario the rocket launches and lands safely, and everyone's been entertained. In the best case, there's a vast explosion and a few less hideous casinos...

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Test to destruction

    I wonder how durable that barge is...

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Test to destruction

      It's a least stronger than the rocket landing or blowing up on it.

    2. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: Test to destruction

      Since one (maybe both?) has been covered in fiery death from the last touchdown on it when the rocker toppled over I would say pretty damn tough.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: Test to destruction

        Just Read The Instructions has survived two failed landings.

        One where it hit pretty hard and boom, the second where it hit hard enough to bend a leg, fell over and boom.

  5. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    a clever strategy to one-up several Bond villains simultaneously

    Musk is secretly preparing his submersible AND movable volcanic lair. The barges are "proof of concept" for future plans involving a largish Persian cat and maniacal laughter.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: a clever strategy to one-up several Bond villains simultaneously

      Hugo Drax

      Elon Musk

      First and last names have 4 letters each - first name 2 vowels, last name 1

      Both made money elsewhere before using it to develop missiles/rockets for the government

      Will he follow the plot of the Moonraker novel or the film adaptation?

      In the film, Drax's shuttles dock with a space station

      Musk's Dragon craft docked with ISS

      to be continued...

      (Paris - where there's a Bond villain, there's a Bond Girl)

      What's the progress on Bond's submersible Lotus Esprit? - Time to get worried is when that's operational

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Of course they're testing it again

    You can't claim you have a viable system to re-use rockets until you have proven you can land them over and over again, and re-launch them over and over again. It will be a few years before they can claim that, and reap the benefits (more frequent launches with much lower per launch cost)

    1. ZSn

      Re: Of course they're testing it again

      But will it be cheaper. Remember that the space shuttle was meant to be cheaper because it was re-usable. In fact it was more expensive because of the enormous manpower required to re-tile and refit the shuttle. We'll only know if it is indeed cheaper after a lot more launches. I guess that it will be cheaper, but perhaps not as much as everyone hopes because the manpower and testing requirements, depending on how much the engines need to be rebuilt every launch and how many launches they last.

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Re: Of course they're testing it again

        In SpaceX's favour, their engines are far simpler than the Space Shuttle's RS-25s, and are designed to be fired many more times and for far longer than necessary for a single launch. The Falcon 9 first stage also doesn't return from orbit and thus doesn't require the Shuttle's fragile and expensive heat shielding. Etc. etc.

        They're two entirely different vehicles, and SpaceX has undoubtedly benefited from the lessons learned by their predecessors.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Of course they're testing it again

          SpaceX also benefits from not having to worry about people riding on their rockets. Redesigning the shuttle engines to work around the weak points that caused them to need a lot of refit effort to reuse them would have been made a lot harder by the man rating. SpaceX has a lot more leeway to rework and try different things without worrying about killing people.

          They want to launch people one day, but they won't worry about that until after they've got the reuse thing figured out (or found out it is nice in theory but impossible with our current technology in real life)

          1. Weapon

            Re: Of course they're testing it again

            Even in worst case scenario, the Dragon V2 can separate from the rocket to safety and deploy parachute. You have multiple layers of fault tolerance.

        2. DocJames

          Re: Of course they're testing it again

          They're two entirely different vehicles, and SpaceX has undoubtedly benefited from the lessons learned by their predecessors.

          ie don't let other agencies strong arm your design team into adding their bits, like the air force demanding cross landing capabilities with the shuttle (so it could land after less than one orbit without anyone knowing where it had been) which completely ruined the proposed lift capcity.

          SpaceX also benefits from not having to worry about people riding on their rockets... They want to launch people one day

          But this advantage isn't that big, as they want their man rating eventually and won't plan to redesign the whole thing in order to make sure it gets it; man rating was built in from the beginning (IIRC).

          Enough complaints from me; a beer to Musk for all his efforts and all those who do exciting things in space.

          1. Richard 12 Silver badge

            Re: Of course they're testing it again

            Man rating is such that they could easily go for "Manned launches are first-time only"

            Or perhaps second.

            There's a lot more unmanned needed that can use the third to 30th launch, so it's fine to do that.

    2. Weapon

      Re: Of course they're testing it again

      Try this year. The next one they recover will be reused within a year.

  7. mtakala82

    Three points:

    1) The return to launch site (land) landing requires a lot of performance reserve, that is not available for a lot of missions to be flown on the Falcon 9 FT rocket version. Those flights will just have to satisfy to a barge landing in the future as well.

    2) Future Falcon 9 Heavy rocket version will have three booster cores. The side boosters will return to land after separating from the launcher, but the center booster core will continue to so high velocity, that it does not have margin to land on land. That center booster will continue to do barge landings.

    3) This Jason 3 launch is being performed on the older version (Falcon 9 1.1) rocket which has less performance than the one that flew before the holidays (Falcon 9 FT). But even if it had Falcon 9 FT, it might not have enough performance to do a land landing on this flight.

    1. mtakala82

      In addition, the barge landings generally do not do the 180 degree turn to boost back to launch site. Barge landing Falcon 9 will do a boostback burn just to target to the landing platform, then a re-entry burn and landing burn as it does with land landings. The boostback burn is the one that consumes the most propellant.

    2. DropBear

      4) SpaceX seems to have a bit of a problem with your point 2...

      1. Weapon

        Point 2 is quote from Musk himself. That is not to say that Falcon Heavy could not land all 3 boosters on land, it can. But then it would have to be carrying a very light payload. (Think something barely too heavy for Falcon 9 FT but nowhere close to Falcon Heavy's capability)

      2. mtakala82

        That video is a year old, with outdated graphics, and purely notional.

        They aren't going to panel up the former Shuttle Fixed Service Structure as depicted; it would be costly and wouldn't actually do much to protect it.

        It has been calculated at the forums that Falcon 9 Heavy using Falcon 9 FT booster performance (best estimate) will not be economical if the center core arrives at the landing site. It becomes sensible rocket only if the center core lands on the barge.

  8. Mikel

    Why make things easy? Why not do the hard thing?

    I refer the reader to JFK's speech at Rice University:

    >But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

    >We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

    They are doing the hard thing because they are capable of it and have the self esteem to leave the easy thing for others to do.

  9. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Well said. The end is reached by doing the hard things.

  10. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Up-Goer Engineering

    This would only be half as exiting if there was a reactionless drive...

  11. Francis Vaughan


    "The launch is also taking place in California, rather than Florida. This means the rocket can't do the most efficient eastward route,"

    No. It is launching a polar orbiting satellite. An Eastward route is not more efficient for a polar orbit, in fact it is impossible to reach a polar orbit insertion launching to the east. The whole point is that the launch MUST launch to the west in order to wipe off the entire rotational speed of the Earth. You need the orbital motion to go over the poles, not over the equator. It launches to the west from the west coast for the same reason eastward launches launch from the east coast. To avoid flying over populated areas.

    Pedant comment:

    "Which begs the question why is SpaceX doing it?"

    "begging the question" has nothing to do with asking a question in response to something. It means to assume the answer to the question. It is a contraction of "beggaring the question". "Begets" the question perhaps, but "begs", is just plain wrong.

    1. Fink-Nottle

      Re: Pendantry

      'flare for the spectacular' - eggcorn? malapropism? What is the term for intentionally incorrect spelling?

      Whatever, it made me chuckle.

      1. DropBear

        Re: Pendantry

        No idea, but based on sheer coolness factor I propose "Freudian Mondegreen"...

  12. Leeroy

    X marks the spot

    Perhaps a nice regular X would be easier to hit?

  13. Stretch

    put a grill in the pad and open a seafood restaurant underneath.

    1. Kharkov

      Cooking for REAL men...

      "Put a grill in the pad and open a seafood restaurant underneath."

      Ah, yes. Kerosene-flavoured king prawns and sea bass, their time has come.

      Mine's the one that's... no, not well well-done, no, not super-well-done, no, not burnt-black, no, the INCINERATED one with a kerosene-oxide coating. As the late, great Terry Pratchett mentioned in Pyramids, Fish & Chips, for MEN...

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