Space

Watch SpaceX Try to Land Rocket Parts on a Drone Barge, Right the Heck Now

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FINAL UPDATE: 

UPDATED UPDATE: Here's the new feed.

UPDATE: Canceled Monday, rescheduled for Tuesday. 

Yep. I said "drone barge." Isn't living in the future awesome?

space x
SpaceX

The private space firm SpaceX (read Reason's cover story on the company and its founder Elon Musk here) is sending another resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), using its Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon capsule will make its way to the ISS with cargo and supplies, as well as a small satellite by Planetary Resources. But while they're at it, SpaceX is going to try something new that could make space flight quicker, cheaper, faster, better.

Right now, when a rocket takes off it discards various bits and pieces on the way up—boosters breaking off and falling as the spacecraft ascends will be a familiar sight to anyone who ever watched a Shuttle launch—in order to be more efficient about fuel use. But those pieces can technically be reusable. Enter the "drone barge," which will use GPS to position itself under the falling booster. That booster has been designed to retain enough fuel and wherewithal to set itself down relatively gently on the barge instead of smashing into the ocean.

This is SpaceX's second attempt, after a lack of hydraulic fluid in the descending booster's fins screwed things up in January. 

Go here to watch the livesteam of the SpaceX launch, starting at 4:15, weather permitting.

drone ship
SpaceX

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  1. This has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton or Rand Paul.

    1. this exactly

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  2. Does it really save that much money over letting it go into the water? Serious question.

    1. The first one? No. But I think the cost was on the order of $10M for new fabrication and $1M to recondition it for a 2nd flight.

      1. I know on the shuttle they parachuted into the water and were reused, I just wondered if landing on the barge was that much cheaper.

        1. Just the fuel tank was reused. The SRBs weren’t. I’m not sure rocket nozzles and navigational fins could survive even a parachute landing.)

          1. You’ve got that backwards. The fuel tank was expendable, the solid rocket boosters were recovered and refurbished.

            1. Well, with solid rockets, generally the nozzles aren’t reused; they undergo erosion during firing and given the lack of moving parts fabricating new ones is more reliable, cheaper and easier than repairing old ones,

              1. Well, with Space Shuttle soclid rocket boosters, which is what we were discussing, it appears that at least parts of the engines are recoverable:

                The solid rocket boosters were re-used many times; the casing used in Ares I engine testing in 2009 consisted of motor cases that had been flown, collectively, on 48 Shuttle missions, including STS-1.

      2. Also, it takes several weeks to do a new one and about a week to recondition ( I think the rework can be done at KSC as well, versus fabrication in California). So it shortens the interval between launches as well.

        1. The plan is not to land it on the barge going forward. They have already placed a lease for landing pads at Canaveral. They will return to the launch site and in theory be refueled and sent right back up. That’s the idea anyway.

    2. I just can’t see how using this method is cheaper than parachute, tow, and recondition.

      Since you need fuel to bring it back down, you also need to use even more fuel on ascent to send the descent fuel up.

      This means the tank needs to be larger. Larger tank needs more fuel, or you reduce the amount of payload that can be put into LEO.

      Regardless of if they land on the barge, or land on the water, I’m almost certain the engine components are gonna get a complete tear-down after a launch. AFAIK thats basically a standard procedure for a reusable rocket engine.

      1. Musk is pretty smart and hires some pretty smart people. I’d guess they know more about how to spend their money than you do.

        1. That depends. Did they graduate from Harvard? And do they work for the BLS, or at least spent some time interning with a senator? How can we know they’re the best and the brightest unless they’ve done some time as civil servants?

          1. I bow in abject shame before your superior wisdom.

  3. Yep. I said “drone barge.” Isn’t living in the future awesome?

    This is one step away from “I Fucking Love Science!” glurge,

    1. What’s really cool is to see this technology applied to trolling motors. Remote launching your boat at the dock and not getting wet is awesome.

      1. I doubt KMW had such an understanding of the concept to even imagine such an application. It was more of “Look at this science-y thing! I’m going to trumpet that it’s cool because that signals I believe in evolution! This shows my superiority to those slope-browed mongoloids in Jesusland!”

        As further evidence, I direct you towards KMW’s vapid boosterism of technology in educational contexts. Robot teachers!

        1. At least robot teachers could sleep with kids without violate legal and ethical codes of conduct.

        2. I doubt KMW had such an understanding of the concept to even imagine such an application. It was more of “Look at this science-y thing! I’m going to trumpet that it’s cool because that signals I believe in evolution! This shows my superiority to those slope-browed mongoloids in Jesusland!”

          You got all that from “living in the future is awesome”? Does it require some sort of decoder ring?

          1. “You got all that from “living in the future is awesome”? Does it require some sort of decoder ring?”

            No, it’s clearly a dogwhistle.

            The rest of us heard ‘this thing is kind of cool’ and HM heard ‘I hate you hicks in flyover country, I am your intellectual superior.

          2. You got all that from “living in the future is awesome”? Does it require some sort of decoder ring?

            IDK about Mullatto, but as a jaded techie, I get signalling vibes constantly.

            Considering actual barges and other boats have been have been driven, in part or in whole by computers for decades and just happened to have humans as cargo, disqualifying them as drones, the only explanations for such excitement are zealotry or child-like naivet

            1. There’s a difference between the self-congratulatory signaling that goes on when one subscribes to some IFLS feed on FB or twitter, and celebrating successful launches by private firms in an industry long dominated by state agencies.

              1. Private space exploration isn’t what elicited the “IFLS”!

                It’s like sitting in front of a touchscreen computer and marveling that the on/off switch is an actual button and not a toggle or knife switch.

                People don’t have to row out to recapture the automated booster drone that’s going to land itself after putting it’s payload drone into orbit? Ain’t the future bitchin’?

        3. KMW is still a million times better than Howley, ans a thousand times better than ENB.

  4. Take off scheduled for 4:33.

  5. Just when I was depressed about the dismal onslaught of endless 2016 election posts this happens. Sometimes the future is awesome.

  6. I hope that the future will be awesome. But I am finding yesterday’s future rather tiresome. And the word “drone” is all used up for me.

    Let me know when moving to the moon becomes a practical option.

  7. Drone Barge would be an excellent name for a rock band

    1. “[Odd phrase] would be an excellent name for a rock band” is Dave Barry’s principal contribution to our modern society, and I salute him for it.

      1. I’m sure that’s from whom I stole it

      2. If it’s less than 17 charachters- I suggest “good name for a thoroughbred”…

      3. “Dave Barry” would be an excellent name for a humorist.

    2. There is a Facebook group called “That would Make a Great Band Name!”

  8. ‘Attached anvil cloud’ or some such; t-storms.

  9. Womp womp. Launch scrubbed.

    1. Due to lack of alt-text.

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  11. A d?j? vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something.

  12. Why do they have to make those things so phallic?

    1. +1 physics is gendered

    2. The engineers are mostly men

      duh

    3. Why do they have to make those things so phallic?

      The vagina-shaped one’s whine terribly and take 9 months to deliver anything.

  13. I don’t know whether I’m hoping for an explosion or a successful launch. Ooooh, guys, I’m excited!

    1. *narrows gaze* Always hope for a successful launch, unless it’s a rocket launched by bad guys.

      1. To be honest, I wouldn’t even consider the alternative if I woke up to the news of a launch, successful or otherwise. But since I bothered watching… well, it’s a bit like watching bullriding, I suppose.

  14. That was so fake. You could see the strings.

  15. That would be a room filled with red-faced engineers if something had gone wrong.

    When I fuck up at work I hear about it over email. Imagine a sea of disappointed faces spectating over your shoulder.

    1. David Brooks would be apalled.

  16. UPDATE: Canceled Monday, rescheduled for Tuesday.

    STOP TEASING ME!

  17. Sounds like the landing was actually pretty good… a few percent in the throttling of the engine, and they’ve got it made. Hardly the disaster that the media would have one believe.

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