Asteroid Mining the big question

We have seen a lot of news recently regarding mining asteroids to provide resources which could open up a trillion dollar industry in the future. However during all this talk the one question that doesn’t seem to have been answered is how do we get the resources back to Earth to use. During a conversation on Twitter today someone asked just this question so we decided to do some research.

There are several ways to look at this, we will explore each of them in this article.  For this article I will be using SpaceX vehicles as the basis of costs vs benefits as their price structure is publicly available.

1) Return to Earth

While this would seem to be the most logic solution it isn’t quite as easy as it seems.  First we need to have a way to bring the resource back to Earth, there are very few options out there today to return cargo to Earth, China’s Shenzhou, Russia’s Soyuz and SpaceX’s Dragon are the only vehicles that are currently in use today, Russia’s Progress vehicle is also capable of returning cargo but isn’t used in that configuration today.  In the future Boeing’s CST-100, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser and NASA’s Orion vehicles will also have this capability.

Unfortunately the capacity of these vehicles is very limited making returning anything from orbit difficult, for example Dragon is currently limited 6,614 lbs.  In addition these vehicles all need to be launched into orbit so that they can be loaded with the cargo to be returned.

Launch Cost: $133m
Return Cargo Value @ 6,614 lbs*: Gold – $136m, Platinum – $151m

* These numbers are based on 8/31/2014 prices and also assume that the material being returned has been processed and therefore the total weight is the metal.

Based on this it would seem that a very small profit could be made for each launch, however this doesn’t take into account any of the costs of the actual mining operations. It is also clear from these numbers that we would only be able to make a profit if the material being returned was worth a lot of money per ounce. Anything less than $1200 per ounce would result in a loss under this approach.

This approach also doesn’t take into account that in the ideal scenario the outbound Dragon would be loaded with supplies that would be used by the mining operation therefore the cost of $133m would be offset making the profit larger per mission. With the introduction of the Falcon Heavy rocket expected next year there is no reason why larger Dragon vehicles can’t be constructed that would increase the return cargo capacity and while the total cost for the Falcon Heavy and Rocket would increase so would the cargo carried to the complex and what could be returned.

2) Return to Earth Orbiting Platforms

The second approach we will look at is returning materials to an Earth Orbiting Platform, this would be useful for materials that can be used in space, for example Water and Oxygen. By storing these in orbit the total amount of these launched on a mission could be reduced, the vehicle would then rendezvous with the platform to transfer additional supplies.

It is difficult to determine the cost of this approach as we would need to consider the following:-

a) Cost of a platform to store the materials?
b) Cost of vehicles to transport materials from asteroid to platform?

This approach would not be that useful for the other materials as they would still need to be returned to Earth before they could be used.

3) In-Space Manufacturing

We believe that the third option is the most exciting, In-Space Manufacturing would allow construction of different items depending on the capabilities of the manufacturing station. Longer term this could even be used to construct vehicles that would be used to return materials to Earth that have been mined, this would significantly reduce the costs and therefore increase the profits.

Any In-Space Manufacturing would need to utilize a mixture of 3D Printing with Robotics to allow the development of different size items as well as being able to develop the electronics etc that would be used to control the items.

As with Option 2 above it is difficult to know how much this approach would cost, we would need to consider the following:-

a) Does the platform need to support human crew members?
b) What size items would need to be constructed, this will determine the size of the platform?
c) Cost of platform to product items?
b) Cost of vehicles to transport materials from asteroid to platform?

With this approach the largest range of materials would be utilized, as we can see almost on a monthly basis the items that can be produced via 3D Printing and Robotics is improve rapidly.

Summary

At the end of the day we believe that all three of these approaches will be needed to fully utilize the resources that would be available from asteroid mining.

While this article gives some options to answer our question we are sure there are others that we haven’t yet thought of. If you have any suggestions please add a comment to this post we would love to involve you in the conversation.

My Views on Commercial Space

Today during a twitter conversation about the new SpaceX Texas Spaceport one of the people in the discussion send the following tweet.

This got me thinking as personally I fully believe in Commercial Space as being the key to the future of human access to space. The reason I am writing this post is to share my perspective Commercial Space.

Yes during the twitter conversation it could be viewed that I was downplaying Commercial Space, however that really wasn’t the case, I was basing the information on what I had learned this week from Garrett Reisman of SpaceX who during a Q&A session after his presentation at the NASA FISO forum stated that the SpaceX Texas Spaceport would not be used for crewed missions. This was because at present the only customer for Commercial Crew is NASA and to get to the space station from Texas would have required flying over populate land which is not allowed under FAA rules.

Commercial Crew

It is my hope that at least two companies are selected under the up coming CCtCap awards which are due to be announced any time now.  Yes I would love SpaceX to be one of those awarded not only because I am a fan of SpaceX but also because currently Boeing and Sierra Nevada plan to use the Atlas 5 launcher which uses the RD-180 Russian engine, although both have said that they could fly on Falcon 9 too.

In an ideal scenario all three companies would be funded to give the US a huge advantage over the rest of the world when it comes to launching crew to orbit, longer term it is my hope that future missions for NASA would use commercial crew for missions especially to LEO and even as far as the moon.  Eventually there would be no need for NASA to have there own launcher and instead could focus there money on science and exploration.

Commercial Stations

In an article that I plan to publish next month I talk a lot more about this, personally I believe that any successor to the International Space Station (ISS) should be derived from commercially available platforms like the Bigelow inflatable modules or others yet to come.  Smaller versions of these inflatable modules could be used to provide crew quarters for longer distance missions.

Bigelow are currently planning to launch at least one of their BA-330 module in 2017 presumably once there is at least one Commercial Crew provider available.  Once there modules are in space and depending on their orbit it could well be that crew could be launched from Texas or even from California.

Space Resource provisioning

For us to be successful in space we need to establish a reliable way of supplying missions from space itself, this would reduce the amount of cargo/fuel that needs to be launched allowing larger payloads, pair that with inflatable spacecraft then longer distance missions could be launched where only the supplies that cannot be sourced in space need to be included.

So why am I playing down the potential

That was never my intention, however I can certainly see from what was said recently that it could be viewed that way, and will certainly be more careful how I say things in future.

I fully believe that the only viable solution to human’s permanent presence in space is through commercial companies.  I closely follow the Commercial Crew programs from Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX, as well as what is happening with Bigelow and any other companies that are trying to future the use of space.

Will SLS ever fly

Following on from my previous article I wanted to explore the possibility that the Space Launch System (SLS) may never actually fly.

While progress has been made on the SLS it will not be ready to fly when President Barack Obama leaves office and given that he cancelled the Constellation Program (CxP) when he came to office it is quite likely that whoever takes office in 2017 could look at how much has been spent on SLS and decide to cancel it too.  Thankfully we believe that the Commercial Crew program will be far enough along that it won’t be cancelled but there is no guarantee.

So what happens if SLS is cancelled?

1) The US would have spent close to $25 billion on CxP and SLS by the time it is cancelled (including Orion and Ground support work).  While elements of the work could be used on a new program it is likely that some of the money would have been wasted.

2) Depending what direction the new President decided the new launcher for NASA could be many years away.

3) NASA would be dependent on Commercial Crew or Russia to launch people to orbit, while that would be the case for International Space Station (ISS) anyway this would also apply to any other missions before an alternate is available.

What do we hope happens?

1) That SLS is cancelled, despite how much has been “invested” in the program we feel that the system is just too expensive to ever fly.  We have heard estimates that each flight could cost $2-3b but at present there just isn’t enough data to know for certain.

2) That any new direction decided would make use of the Commercial partners that are already providing services to NASA.  SpaceX have plans for Falcon Heavy which would have the largest payload capacity of any rocket currently available and they are already working on engines for a successor to that.  The three competitors in the Commercial Crew Program Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX all have vehicles that can carry as many as seven passengers to orbit.  SpaceX’s long term goals are to travel to Mars which means they will have vehicles in the future that can make the journey.

3) That whatever plan is decided on by the President is based on feedback from the citizen’s of the US, either via a Survey or by putting together a team of non government experts who could layout a course that benefits everyone, a decadal survey for manned space flight.

4) Whatever plan is adopted needs to at least have started flying within a single Presidential term so that it is much harder to cancel when the next President takes office.

The views in this article are our own, we would love to 
hear your feedback on this.

 

The true cost of getting the US back to manned flight

To date we have seen a lot of talk about the cost of the SLS program, however that isn’t the only cost that has been incurred by the US tax payer since the announcement that the Space Shuttle was to be retired. This article will look at everything that has happened since then and how much has been spent, or remains to be spent based on current budgets before the US has manned flights again.

First we will look at NASA’s progress towards manned flight, then we will look at the Commercial sector.

NASA

In early 2003 President George W. Bush announced the retirement of the Space Shuttle during his Vision for Space Exploration initiative, which also called for the development of a new launch system and manned capsule capable of launching crew to the International Space Station and beyond. The program was known as the Constellation (CxP) program and consisted of two launch vehicles Ares I and Ares V, ohe crewed capsule Orion and a lander Altair. Work on CxP progressed to the point where an Ares I rocket was launched in Oct 2009, however shortly after President Barack Obama took office the program was cancelled and instead NASA was refocused on the Space Launch System.

Total cost of CxP: $9 billion estimated in 2010

In 2010 President Barack Obama cancelled the Constellation program and launched the Space Launch System (SLS) plan that called for a single launcher with different capacities from 70mt to 130mt and a human rated capsule which would allow 2-6 crew members to be travel to space.  With this new goal set NASA began working on the SLS and just this week passed the KDP-C  which takes the SLS from design phase to manufacture.  However first flight is still targeted to be somewhere between 12/2017 and 11/2018 depending if everything is ready, with only a 70% confidence of meeting that target.

We also need to take into account the cost of building the crew vehicle that will be launched on SLS, this is a key part of the goal.  There have been a number of tests performed so far on different versions of the Orion module with the first test flight using a Delta IV heavy currently scheduled for later this year 12/2014.

And finally we cannot forget that to launch this massive new rocket the ground support systems will also need to be upgraded, the VAB hasn’t been used for such a large vehicle since the last Saturn 5 launch, in addition the launch pad needs to be upgraded to handle the larger rocket.

Estimated cost of SLS: $7 billion by launch in 11/2018
Estimated cost of Orion: $10 billion
Estimated cost of Ground Systems: $3 billion

Commercial Providers

Due to NASA focus on the a large capacity system that would most likely to too costly and too late for International Space Station crew missions NASA was also tasked with out-sourcing ISS Cargo and Crew missions to commercial companies.  This has been successfully completed with SpaceX and Orbital Sciences providing multiple missions already and contracted for many more.  For crew the process is still on-going with three companies currently working under CCiCap agreements, this will soon be narrowed down to one or two companies under the new CCtCap agreements which is due to be announced any time.

Total cost of Commercial Cargo Dev for NASA: $800 million

Total allocated fund for Commercial Crew Dev (so far) for NASA: $1.2 billion based on budget requests thru 2013 budget. *

* For Commercial Crew the money is only paid out upon reaching pre-defined milestones so while this amount has been allocated not all has been paid out yet.

Summary

So in summary NASA has spent $800m helping bring Commercial cargo availability back to the US, that doesn’t include the $3.4b it has on contract with SpaceX and Orbital Sciences for actual cargo which isn’t relevant for this article.

They have so far spent $1.2b helping bring Commercial crew availability back to the US and assuming there are not any significant issues with whoever is selected to move forward in CCtCap should have the capacity to launch crew in the next two years.

And finally they will have spent an estimated $16b on the Rocket, $10b on Orion and $3b on upgrades to the ground system to have there own launch capability back.  If the first SLS does finally launch in late 2017 or sometime in 2018 then NASA would have launched just three rockets in 12 or 13 years (one a commercial rocket carrying the first test Orion), at a cost of $9.6b each.  This cost doesn’t actually include the first crewed flight with SLS as we currently don’t have enough data to truly calculate the total, however some have estimated that the total cost by first crewed flight could be anywhere from $32-37b.

While we understand developing a new rocket isn’t a cheap project, it is also clear based on the numbers above the both SpaceX and Orbital were able to bring new rockets to the table Falcon 9 and Antares for far less and in much shorter time-frames.

We also have three viable Commercial Crew vehicles in development each of which has a larger crew capacity and at least two of which could be flying most likely before the first SLS ever leaves the ground.  **

The other factor that we need to consider is the 2016 Presidential Election, we already know that there will be a new president starting in 2017 and it is quite possible that whoever is elected will look at the amount of money spent on SLS and want changes made anywhere from cancelling the whole program to re-purposing it which could cause costly delays.

** Based on two being awarded CCtCap contracts, although SpaceX has already stated that they would try to continue development of Dragon V2 even if they don’t get an award as it is key to their long term goals of sending people to Mars.

The opinions in this article are my own, the information on costs is 
publicly available from multiple sources on the internet.

 

SLS Launch Date slips but not really

Today NASA announced they had completed the Key Decision Point C (KDP-C) review of the new Space Launch System their heavy launch rocket.  With this milestone meet they can now proceed with the manufacturing of the actual flight hardware, while also performing reviews of the Ground Support systems and the Orion payload.

As a result of the review NASA also announced that the likely launch date for SLS would be no later than November 2018 a slip of almost nine months from the last announced date of December 2017, however during the conference call by NASA they stated that this really wasn’t a slip!!!  They also stated that they were only 70% confident of making that date or meeting the $7 billion budget that was announced.  Later in the call they stated that they may still make the December 2017 date.

During the Q&A afterwards a number of questions were asked specifically about the future of SLS after the currently manifested flights, there were no real details available beyond the EM-1 and EM-2 flights.  They did say that they would like to continue the cadence of one flight every two years.

Below is the official release from NASA on the KDP-C milestone and what happens next

NASA officials Wednesday announced they have completed a rigorous review of the Space Launch System (SLS) — the heavy-lift, exploration class rocket under development to take humans beyond Earth orbit and to Mars — and approved the program’s progression from formulation to development, something no other exploration class vehicle has achieved since the agency built the space shuttle.

“We are on a journey of scientific and human exploration that leads to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “And we’re firmly committed to building the launch vehicle and other supporting systems that will take us on that journey.”

For its first flight test, SLS will be configured for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit. In its most powerful configuration, SLS will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons), which will enable missions even farther into our solar system, including such destinations as an asteroid and Mars.

This decision comes after a thorough review known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), which provides a development cost baseline for the 70-metric ton version of the SLS of $7.021 billion from February 2014 through the first launch and a launch readiness schedule based on an initial SLS flight no later than November 2018.

Conservative cost and schedule commitments outlined in the KDP-C align the SLS program with program management best practices that account for potential technical risks and budgetary uncertainty beyond the program’s control.

“Our nation is embarked on an ambitious space exploration program, and we owe it to the American taxpayers to get it right,” said Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who oversaw the review process. “After rigorous review, we’re committing today to a funding level and readiness date that will keep us on track to sending humans to Mars in the 2030s – and we’re going to stand behind that commitment.”

“The Space Launch System Program has done exemplary work during the past three years to get us to this point,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“We will keep the teams working toward a more ambitious readiness date, but will be ready no later than November 2018.”
The SLS, Orion, and Ground Systems Development and Operations programs each conduct a design review prior to each program’s respective KDP-C, and each program will establish cost and schedule commitments that account for its individual technical requirements.

“We are keeping each part of the program — the rocket, ground systems, and Orion — moving at its best possible speed toward the first integrated test launch,” said Bill Hill, director Exploration Systems Development at NASA. “We are on a solid path toward an integrated mission and making progress in all three programs every day.”

“Engineers have made significant technical progress on the rocket and have produced hardware for all elements of the SLS program,” said SLS program manager Todd May. “The team members deserve an enormous amount of credit for their dedication to building this national asset.”

The program delivered in April the first piece of flight hardware for Orion’s maiden flight, Exploration Flight Test-1 targeted for December. This stage adapter is of the same design that will be used on SLS’s first flight, Exploration Mission-1.

Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans has all major tools installed and is producing hardware, including the first pieces of flight hardware for SLS. Sixteen RS-25 engines, enough for four flights, currently are in inventory at Stennis Space Center, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where an engine is already installed and ready for testing this fall. NASA contractor ATK has conducted successful test firings of the five-segment solid rocket boosters and is preparing for the first qualification motor test.

SLS will be the world’s most capable rocket. In addition to opening new frontiers for explorers traveling aboard the Orion capsule, the SLS may also offer benefits for science missions that require its use and can’t be flown on commercial rockets.

The next phase of development for SLS is the Critical Design Review, a programmatic gate that reaffirms the agency’s confidence in the program planning and technical risk posture.

For more information about SLS, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/sls

SpaceX talk to NASA FISO

2014-08-27_163946This afternoon SpaceX’s Garrett Reisman gave a talk to NASA’s Future In-Space Operations Group regarding SpaceX.

During the talk he mentioned the up coming milestones for CCiCap.

The Dragon Pad Abort test will be performed from the top of a test structure from SLC-40 as SLC-39 will not be ready in time. The vehicle will include a dummy and prototype seat so that they can gather data during the test on the effects on the crew.

The second test will be the in-flight abort test, will be just before Max-Q and will allow SpaceX to determine how they can control the spacecraft as it flies away from the Dragon.

The goal for SpaceX is to fly a Falcon to orbit, land it, refuel and fly again.

SpaceX building own docking mechanism for Dragon V2 will be simpler and lighter than shuttle version.

Dragon V2 will use parachutes during landing and then fire the Super-Draco engines to cushion the landing.

After the talk a number of questions were asked

Q) How re-usable will be Dragon V2 be.
A) Designed for 10 flights but not going to worry about that for cert, willing to build a new one for each flight.

Q) What happens after an launch abort with landing?
A) Will always be a water landing, however if the wind drifts you to land it can still land.

Q) Range safety for the Texas site?
A) Brownsville will only be for commercial to GEO so will be threading through the keyhole between Florida and Mexico so that there isn’t any over flight of land.

Q) Raptor engine development status?
A) Designed for follow on to Falcon Heavy, currently components are in testing a Stennis.

Q) Where there any considerations to building the rockets closer to the launch side to limit the restrains on the design which stops the cores from being larger than 12 feet otherwise additional costs come into play for transportation?

A) The follow on to Falcon Heavy will most likely have a larger structure, currently no decision on where this will be manufactured.

Q) Is the initial Falcon Heavy flight still on track?
A) As far as he knows it is but hasn’t checked the chart recently to be sure.

Q) How much will seat be for crewed missions?
A) Plan for 7 crew members expected to be $20m cost for fewer crew will increase but unsure of cost. Number of flights per year will also be a factor in the cost per person.

Q) Falcon Heavy Shroud – Any plans to have larger on vehicle?
A) Current plan is to use the same one as Falcon 9, there is desire for larger but no current plans for bigger. Currently want to keep the same one to reduce the risks and costs of having different sizes.

Q) Are the cores the same for the Falcon Heavy?
A) Central Core is same, outer cores originally planned to have different plumbing but that may have changed now.

Q) Will first FH launch use cross-feed?
A) Not sure at present, originally that was the plan.

Q) Will the Raptor engine be usable as an upper stage engine in the future?
A) Not know at the current time.

Q) Dragon recovery process? Parachutes + Propulsion?
A) Propulsive is for the final part of the landing, parachutes for main descent.

Q) When is the SpaceX IPO?
A) No plans at present, Elon has stated that they would like to wait until they have people on Mars.

Q) What can you tell us about the F9R incident?
A) It looks like it was a single point failure on the F9R, which doesn’t exist on F9. Most likely even if the same failure had happened on F9 it would have continued it’s mission without any issues. Because F9R didn’t have a backup they had to abort the test as it flew outside the bounds of the flight.

Below is the presentation

Reisman_8-27-14

AsiaSat-6 launch scrubbed

SpaceX announced this afternoon that this evening’s AsiaSat-6 launch has been scrubbed. This follows last Friday’s F9R test failure and almost certainly is to allow the team more time to review the data from that test and ensure that the problem won’t happen to the F9 launcher.

While this is yet another delay for SpaceX it is to be understood, while the failure last week was on a test vehicle having a similar issue with a commercial launch would be a big setback for SpaceX.

A new launch date has not yet been announced, SpaceX do have a backup date for 8/28 if ready otherwise could be next week.

New Horizons Mission to Pluto/Charon

Today NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft passed the Orbit of Neptune exactly 25 years after Voyager 2 passed the same planet. At the time it passed the orbit Neptune was 4 million kilometers away as it proceeded on it’s orbit around the sun.

2014-08-25_131908To celebrate this milestone NASA talked about the mission of New Horizons as it quickly approaches the Pluto/Charon system. New Horizons is already taking images of the Pluto/Charon system as it approaches and will continue to as it gets closer.

Due to the distance from the Sun the New Horizons spacecraft is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) which will give it the ability to perform science for many years with the hope of travelling to a secondary object in the Kuiper Belt after the Pluto/Charon flyby.

2014-08-25_132256The New Horizons spacecraft has the following scientific instruments that will be used during the Pluto/Charon flyby next year.

  • Ralph: Visible and infrared imager/spectrometer; provides color, composition and thermal maps.
  • Alice: Ultraviolet imaging spectrometer; analyzes composition and structure of Pluto’s atmosphere and looks for atmospheres around Charon and Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).
  • REX: (Radio Science EXperiment) Measures atmospheric composition and temperature; passive radiometer.
  • LORRI: (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) telescopic camera; obtains encounter data at long distances, maps Pluto’s farside and provides high resolution geologic data.
  • SWAP: (Solar Wind Around Pluto) Solar wind and plasma spectrometer; measures atmospheric “escape rate” and observes Pluto’s interaction with solar wind.
  • PEPSSI: (Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation) Energetic particle spectrometer; measures the composition and density of plasma (ions) escaping from Pluto’s atmosphere.
  • SDC: (Student Dust Counter) Built and operated by students; measures the space dust peppering New Horizons during its voyage across the solar system.

This is the first spacecraft to visit the Pluto/Charon system and will give us an amazing amount of information that we have only been able to guess at until now. The image below shows Pluto taken by Hubble and Earth taken from the same resolution, as you can see from the image it is very difficult to determine anything from that distance.

Pluto_Earth

 

Galileo Satellite’s launched to wrong orbit

Update to our previous story regarding the Soyuz Launch of two Galileo satellites.

At the end of the webcast yesterday ArianeSpace believed the satellites had been deployed to the planned orbits, however U.S. military orbital tracking data indicated the satellites were flying in a lower orbit than planned. Officials confirmed a launch anomaly in a statement late Friday.

“Complementary observations gathered after separation of the Galileo FOC M1 satellites on Soyuz Flight VS09 have highlighted a discrepancy between targeted and reached orbit,” Arianespace, the French launch services company, said in a statement.

Arianespace said investigations into the launch anomaly are underway and more information will be provided after a flight data analysis to be completed Saturday.

Orbital data from the U.S. Air Force showed three objects in an orbit with a low point around 13,700 kilometers — about 8,500 miles — above Earth. The objects are in an orbit with an inclination of 49.7 degrees, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who tracks global satellite and launch activity.

Update: Several sources have said that there may not be enough fuel on the satellites to correct their orbits, if so they will need to launch two replacements in the future to complete the full constellation.

SpaceX Test Rocket Explodes during Test

22falcon9r_400281A serious anomaly occurred during the latest flight of SpaceX reusable test rocket F9R resulting in the Flight Termination Software destroying the rocket.  This was the first test flight of the three engine test vehicle which is designed to fly higher than the single engine vehicles that had been tested up to this point.  Elon Musk acknowledged the explosion on his twitter account.

Several video’s have appeared online of the test flight and it seems clear that the rocket was having issues well before it exploded as it can be seen diverting left and right and appeared to flip over just before it exploded.

What does this mean for SpaceX?

First let us now forget that this is a test vehicle and therefore there was no guarantee that it would work, so far SpaceX have had a lot of success with the Grasshopper and F9R test flights but as they continue to push the limits something was bound to happen.

Second these tests are for the re-usability functionality that SpaceX are planning for the future where they plan to return the first stages to the launch pad so that they can be reused.  The design of this vehicle is also different, while the stage is the same size as the full Falcon 9 there were only three engines on this one not the full nine that would be found on a standard first stage.  And let us not forget that NO-ONE else is even attempting to do this.

However the timing isn’t ideal, just today the FAA approved the test flights of the DragonFly vehicle which is designed to test the propulsive landing capabilities of the Dragon spacecraft, also today the static fire test for the AsiaSat-6 launch was performed and appears to have been successful and finally the CCtCap awards are just around the corner and this failure could cause some in Congress to question awarding SpaceX with the CCtCap agreement until the results of the failure investigation are made available.

What happens next?

SpaceX have not said if this failure will have an impact on the launch of the AsiaSat-6 satellite next Wednesday morning.  They will be reviewing the data from the static fire test and will then holder a final review meeting to determine if the launch can proceed.  Should they decide they need more time due to this failure that would be decided then.

SpaceX will no doubt perform a full review of the F9R test flight to determine what happened and what needs to be done to address the issue.  However the data they are collecting from the F9R is being supplemented by the successful return flights of the full Falcon 9 missions, while the two AsiaSat launches didn’t allow the full return test due to needing more fuel to launch the next Dragon flight to the ISS SpX-4 is due to launch in September and will allow another test to be performed.  SpaceX have already announced that they will soon attempt to land on a barge however no further details are available at the moment.

We have no doubt that SpaceX’s competitors will be jumping all over this failure regardless of the fact that it was a test flight and we are also sure that those on congress how have voiced opposition to SpaceX will also try to make the most of this.

The key question for us is how will SpaceX handle this?