SpaceX Aims for Late December Launch of Falcon Heavy

Artist’s conception of a Falcon Heavy launch. (Credit: SpaceX)

It looks like Elon Musk is not letting the holidays get in the way of the maiden launch of the Falcon Heavy booster, even though it is already running about five years behind its original schedule:

SpaceX is understood to be targeting mid-December for the Static Fire of Falcon Heavy followed by a late-December, No Earlier Than 29 December, launch of the heavy lift rocket.

SpaceX schedules a lot of NET (no earlier than) launch dates. They usually slip. We’ll see if the same thing happens here.

  • duheagle

    Governments are the only ones with uranium enrichment industrial bases so compact uranium-based reactors would need on-going government involvement. But Thorium is more obtainable than even natural uranium so I think that’s where stationary nuclear power will come from.

    I agree that beamed power has a bright future both for fixed installations and for ship propulsion. SEP will incrementally give way to BPEP – same engines, different power source – for any application much beyond Earth orbit.

  • duheagle

    As already noted, in the real world this isn’t going to happen because the legacy majors don’t have the juice to pull it off. Nor do they really have the incentive to expend the sort of political capital it would take to even make a run at something like this. Space is, in essence, a sidebar business for the aerospace majors. Most of their revenue comes from weapons programs, not space. And there are all sorts of players who have benefited from SpaceX as it is that would weigh in against any corrupt scheme to shackle it via state edict, the heftiest of those being USAF. If this sort of scenario seems reasonably possible to you it is only because you have spent too many years in the cloud-cuckoo-land of academic leftism where large corporations are seen as near-omnipotent juggernauts of insensate evil.

  • duheagle

    But they have fewer friends on the Hill than they used to and SpaceX has more. As previously noted, the legacy majors will be a lot more motivated to expend that “fight” of theirs against new players looking to go after their primary rice bowls in military equipment than against an opponent that has already beaten them in a stand-up fight when they were stronger and it was weaker than at present.

    You are tunnel-visioned on space and hag-ridden by leftist twaddle. There is a much larger relevant context here.

  • duheagle

    About that, you are spot-on. SpaceX is hardly the only exemplar that even start-ups can build whole rockets, including engines, from scratch and in ways superior to established practice. It is just the biggest, most successful and fastest-moving example. The near-total failure of legacy aerospace to rise to the challenge is due to combined failures of will and imagination.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    🙂 It will take about as much effort as was expended making sure the victims of Wells Fargo’s mass fraudulent account creation scheme and the EquiFax breach can’t sue those corporations into the pulps they deserve to be beaten into. These sorts of things do happen in the real, and it’s happening here and now, not in Andrew Caregee’s US. That law was passed just last week. But as always, we’ll see. This will play out over the next few years, with stated positions it’s time to sit back and watch what grows in the petri dish.

  • duheagle

    Since all the argumentation against SpaceX is counter-factual, this effort isn’t going to result in anything consequential happening to SpaceX. If SpaceX’s opposition are foolish enough to appear before Congress, Musk and Shotwell will gut, fillet and grill them.

  • duheagle

    The revolving door isn’t what it used to be. ULA has already been forced to prune its managerial deadwood. Once AJR loses the Vulcan contract, the same will be true there as well. This sort of genial corruption works only so long as it stays in the shadows. Shine some light on it and the ooky things under the rocks will shrivel and die like vampires. Any real attempt to spike SpaceX will be far too big to keep in the shadows. SpaceX, itself, will see to that. And it will have plenty of help.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Sorry, many of my college buddies have executed the cycle I just described. In fact the majority who went into the military and government cycle did just that. Retired then hired into the very corporations they worked with. It’s inevitable, it’s human nature, and sometimes it even helps the economy. I might even say most of the time it does. However Space X obviously does not do this on a large scale. They break the mold. And if you think military types and civil servants don’t consider what runway they’re going to land on after their pension is ready to kick in, I have a bridge to Brooklyn I’d like to show you. It’s a great location.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    We’ll see what happens with the Republican party. McCain is gone … soon. And Elong sided with the Democrats, and since this is becoming the party of Trump, SX has committed the one sin Trump can’t abide by, and you know what it is……Loyalty. SX has no loyalty for mr Trump. How many of SX’s Republican friends are self checking out of the party?

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Just that may happen, but if they have the votes it could still happen. Sorry been watching C-Span since the 90’s I’ve watched just the cycle you describe, and the vote still go …. counter-factual.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    USAF does have a lot of say in this. And I agree there is an apparent SX fan club in their space cadre. Let’s see how deep it goes. If it’s a Falcon 9 fan club, a Kelly Space Act allows the Falcon to live but be flown by the ‘professionals’ at ULA who know how to do contracting the way the USAF wants it done, and is willing to go along and make no hay. As opposed to SX who sued their way into the game. I’m sure you remember the batch buys of ULA launch product. What SX really needs are people at NRO who are salivating at the prospect of 8m or more monolithic mirrors as the new standard for recon-satellites and ELINT satellites with antennas the size of small towns in GEO. Because if they want that, then they’ll want BFR.

  • ReSpaceAge

    Fake News

  • Michael Halpern

    Remember, launches and satellites are major US exports

  • Michael Halpern

    Your not factoring in that ULA exists primarily because the USAF, DoD and NRO required them to exist, Boeing and LockMart make more money on planes and weapons then they do space, Orbital ATK is wholly owned by one of the biggest weapons manufacturers in the US. Besides ULA already has spent quite a bit of political capital recently so that they could purchase the RD-180s they need as they transition to Vulcan.

  • Tom Billings

    “I think they’ll rein in SX by re-vamping the Kelly Aviation Act of 1925,
    and split the service of launching satellites from the business of
    making rockets.”

    That will only happen when the next FDR gets into the WH, with a compliant Congress. Lots of forgetting will need to happen before that takes place. That also ignores the competition likely to be provided by New Glenn and its successors. It will be flying by 2024, and the talk of monopoly that justified the Boeing breakup will sound pretty hollow.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Check who the president was in ’25. 🙂 He was no Roosevelt. The crux of my conspiracy theory is that ULA does government contracting the way they are told to, with few questions. The government will want to foster that. Separating manufacturers from operators would, in the governments eyes, let ULA execute the function the government wants it to do. Execute gov policy for high dollar expenditures and provide jobs. SX could do what the gov wants it to do, make rockets, and not create problems with going off to the Moon or Mars. If BO learns to obey orders from the government then maybe the baton will pass to them. If the government lets SX and BO break out, then awesome, the US still has a lot of it’s own moxie, the government is not as corrupt as I think it can be, and our generation can die out knowing that we’ve given a frontier to the generations that came after us.

  • duheagle

    The USAF guys looking for sweetheart post-retirement deals who engineered the ULA block buy are all gone by now. The guy primarily responsible got one of those “Executive V.P. In Charge of Playing Golf with Congressmen” jobs with AJR. I’m guessing his “golden parachute” is looking a bit moth-eaten these days.

    Meanwhile, with Rep. Rogers nipping at their heels, USAF are all arses and elbows trying to get space-related things moving after a 20-year siesta. The USAF space troopies in the actual trenches seem to be firm SpaceX partisans. The Fighter Jock Mafia have been forced to leave them at least a bit of the money they’re supposed to get and SpaceX lets them stretch that as far is it can go.

    I suspect, for example, that future X-37B flights will go at least 2:1 to SpaceX. It’s even possible X-37C has been taken off the back burner, though I have no way to confirm that. But an X-37C finally in the works would certainly explain USAF’s interest in both Raptor and a possible improved upper stage based on it for FH. Even the Fighter Jock Mafia would kill for a shot at flying an honest-to-gosh spaceplane.

    And I certainly don’t discount NRO’s rooting interest in SpaceX. FH will be real any day now and give NRO a much cheaper alternative for launching its various mega-birds – and on nine times the engine count, probably a smoother ride too. BFR, of course, pretty much blows away any current limits on spooksat size as you correctly note.

    So there is a very sizeable and influential community of interest that would aggressively resist any egregious screwing around with SpaceX. And very much unlike the MSFC/SLS Mafia, these are folks who have actual work to do.

  • duheagle

    The mighty fall all the time. IBM used to be the 800-pound gorilla of the computer business. Now they’re a distant second fiddle to H-P. The hyper-fossilized defense industry is ripe for a brittle fracture. Left to its own devices, SpaceX isn’t going to be the entity to provide it. If the legacy majors make the fatal mistake of trying to screw over Elon Musk, though, battle will most assuredly be joined. In the end, Elon and his troops will still be standing, surrounded by a sizeable pile of low-quality ground beef that used to be their attackers.

  • duheagle

    As Instapundit likes to say, something that can’t go on, won’t. The country, both left and right, has had a bellyful of genial corruption and business as usual. Any institution that thinks the old ways are sacred to the muses and will last forever is whistling past the graveyard – the one where they’ll wind up taking the eternal dirt-nap.

  • duheagle

    Neither Musk’s opposition nor his allies divide at all cleanly across partisan lines. It is in exactly this sort of near-formless scrum of multiple competing factions with often internally contradictory interests that someone who is sharp and focused, like Musk, can make hay and foil his would-be destructors.

    How many of SX’s Republican friends are self checking out of the party?

    Good question. I don’t have anything remotely resembling a list of such friends, but I’ve heard no news to indicate that, say, Dana Rohabacher is going anywhere. The most recent high-profile pre-announced retirement is that of Lamar Smith, hardly a Friend of Elon. I’m not sure the intra-party Republican turmoil is going to be much of a factor in any putative SpaceX-vs.-The-Swamp story.

  • duheagle

    Just when is it, even approximately, that you think the ravening huns of OldSpace are going to descend on Hawthorne? Put another way, how long do you think it will be before SpaceX is simply too big to take down even if all three of the current Big Dogs decide to attack? What’s SpaceX’s window of alleged vulnerability?

  • Michael Halpern

    Just because SX has its own agenda, doesn’t mean it conflicts with what the government wants. We are a nation of capitalists, we take great pride in the businesses in this country, what better way is there to stick it to the socialists, than an American private company or a few of them taking us throughout the solar system?

  • windbourne

    I would suggest that a lot could change if a tug/fuel Depot is developed by one of these companies. In fact, without a fuel Depot in lunar orbit, I can not see cheap reusable lunar Landers.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I agree with most of these comments…I would add these

    (sorry for the time away not responding to your post, when I go on a “out and back” in the Boeing its just consuming from a sleep standpoint particularly when I do LIFUS …aka training)

    the best thing so far that has happened to space ‘development is the Secretary of the AF. she is a smart talented individual who has a sense that “what is” cannot be for much longer…AND taht the key to space systems surviving in a “Chinese” environment …ie a red team that has a functioning economy and high tech (as well as motivation)

    is that space systems need to change. THE KEY TO THAT (my emphasis) is lowering launch cost…because only if launch cost are lowered can the ever upward mobility of the complex military space platform be “stopped”…and reversed to allow “smaller, more nimble and more producable” space platforms

    these are essential to at least on paper having the ability to survive “pearl harbor” type attacks…where well after the space assets are gone …then there are no more to launch or it takes another three months to launch them…and that is a key to detterence.

    X 37 is a case in point. X 37 does not work without the low launch cost…and if you get them then you have the ability to fly a “larger” X37 payload with say an expendable service module…where the times on orbit are near four years…or so; you get rid of things that are “not refurbishable” like solar arrays, radiators etc and bring the basic instruments “home” fix them, upgrade them and fly them again

    so instead of satellites that work 10 eyars you have ones that are designed for half that…and there are more of them

    the point here is not X37 but that the SecAF knows that things have to change…Not NASA they dont give a damn…as you put it…they have actual work to do”

  • Michael Halpern

    Considering that SpaceX is out launching all the modern space launch cadences, (by modern I mean post spacerace) and quite possibly the only operating launcher that has had a larger yearly launch record than the F9 is looking at for 2017 is the R7/Soyuz family, I’d say SpaceX is already too big to take down

  • spacechampion

    If they had launch 5 years ago they would have spent vastly more money for a less capable vehicle, and then spent more money upgrading it to the current reusable version they’re aiming to launch in December.

  • Douglas Messier

    They couldn’t have launched five years ago because they were wrong in thinking they could just slap three first stages together and launch them.

  • Michael Halpern

    The F9 v1 and v1.1 (block 1 and block 2) didn’t have the structural capability to handle the side boosters, that is why starting with F9 FT (block 3 and 4) the F9 is built with 40% structural margin as opposed to the industry standard 25%, its also part of the reason for going from 3×3 engine configuration to octoweb, at that point even if they could do it, it would have just been an alternative to the Delta IV heavy anyways, the performance upgrade the between v1.1 and FT, especially once they figured out subcooled propellants, are what really made FH a viable vehicle.

  • Michael Halpern

    Vulcan does have exactly 1 advantage over FH and that is the Advanced Cryogenics Evolved Stage, meaning through several launches there really isn’t much of a limit to your total possible delta v budget once in orbit, provided you stay in orbit, at least until a certain point,

  • duheagle

    And a propellant depot is among the many things that DSG, as spitballed currently, is not.

  • duheagle

    Agreed on all points. And I fixed the above comment to credit you with the X-37 hypothesis. I did that a couple other places and apologize for initially skipping doing so here.

  • With the right architecture, I don’t think that that advantage is necessary. With the FH being able to place about twice as much payload at LEO than the Vulcan and if the payload was a cryogenic lander, them the combo could place 10 tonnes on the lunar surface. If refueled from lunar resources, a lunar lander could retrieve about 20 tonnes from EML1. I don’t see any singular payload needing to weigh 10 or 20 tonnes.

  • I do like SEP for cargo — very efficient. So I’m open to an architecture that uses it. And I would consider advanced SEP to potentially be near-term tech.

    I would rather assemble a Mars craft in LEO than lunar orbit due to the cost-effectiveness and capability of FH to LEO. If lunar propellant becomes available then shipping it to LEO would probably be more cost-effective than to EML1 is aerobraking were possible.

  • duheagle

    I think that too. In fact I think SpaceX was already too big to take down back in 2014 when it broke open the ULA monopoly at least partly by force. Mr. Tubbiolo begs to differ. I’m just trying to get a little clarity here on the timeframe we should be looking at anent his notional scenario.

  • Then you’ll probably want to be laying down when you watch the FH animation.

  • duheagle

    Yes. Fortunately, it didn’t take them all that long to figure that out. FH kept slipping because it was never a high priority and because it had to undergo a significant re-do every time the F9 took a step up in class. I think there have actually been something like a half-dozen CAD-file-only versions of FH – roughly one a year – since its announcement back in 2011. Only the latest one has actually been committed to bent metal. We’ll very likely get to settle all the FH questions still floating around the Web Christmas-ish. That, I eagerly await.

  • duheagle

    The reason F9 has at least a 40% structural margin is not FH but NASA certification requirements for human-rated rockets. 25% is not an industry standard, it’s the standard Boeing built the Delta IV to. That’s why Delta IV is a non-starter as a Commercial Crew booster even apart from its cost. Atlas V had the requisite margin from the start, though, just like F9. What Atlas V didn’t> have, until it was added, was a suitably robust and accurate failure-detection system to allow safe aborts of crewed missions.

    The FH center core needs to be much beefier than even a human-rated single-stick F9. The FH center core SpaceX has built is stronger – and heavier. How much of each, I don’t know. Perhaps SpaceX will educate us all on the matter in the fullness of time.

  • redneck

    I think you miss the point that the ability to refuel is not a requirement to refuel. By having refueling facilities in many locations it is possible to recover secondary payload propellant from some ships for use on others that need a bit of help. Many payloads are volume limited allowing for substantial extra fuel to LEO if orbital planes coincide, which they can for GEO and Lunar focused launches. Not to mention that a dedicated tanker can haul considerably more propellant to orbit than its’ nominal payload capacity.
    Just because we may not see a need for larger single pieces now doesn’t make it reasonable to eliminate the possibility of enabling them in the future. It is often pointed out that refueling an upper stage allows the entire LEO capacity of any ship to be inserted into TLI and TMI orbits. Less often mentioned is that the capability is a byproduct of a facility capable of continuous use unlike dedicated Lunar or Mars hardware.

  • Thanks for the schooling on refueling.

    Is the increased capability of a dedicated tanker over the nominal payload capacity due primarily to the need for propellant margins or something else?

    Re: the need for larger pieces, I anticipate a fairly rapid ISRU capability for simple material such as water, propellant, breathable oxygen, organics, food, & metals. Relatively soon payloads from Earth would be people, electronics, precision parts, and rare substances in addition to the vehicles. You think?

    > a byproduct of a facility capable of continuous use unlike dedicated Lunar or Mars hardware.

    Why is that? Couldn’t there be transportation availability from the Moon on an on-demand basis?

  • redneck

    Debate is not schooling as that would imply an inferior position on your part which is unfair as well as untrue.

    The increased capability of the dedicated tanker is due to the payload being housed in a stretch tank of the base vehicle which eliminates shrouds, attachments and other payload considerations. That saves considerable mass. In addition, the fuel margin is available as payload if not used, which is not the case for a physical payload.

    Even your 10 ton to Lunar surface pieces would require FH or equivalent without refueling. With refueling, F9, Atlas, Delta, Ariane, Soyuz, Cygnus, and Long March can all send that mass of payload to the surface of the moon. The limit to the Lunar surface is only the launcher limitation to LEO. For 60 ton single piece, there will be one or two launchers. For 10 tons, many options.

    Also, as price to LEO drops, the value of Lunar ISRU drops, even as it becomes more feasible. Economics will be the deciding factor even while the relevant factors are in a state of flux. At $50lb for instance, a billion dollars in launch costs puts 10,000 tons in LEO. That would make the case for Lunar ISRU very tough except for easily extracted local use product.

    Dedicated like SLS or MCT, possibly available in a decade on a biennial basis.

  • Michael Halpern

    big thing is that if you assemble or possibly even source space craft structure in a low gravity environment, not only can you send less up, but it doesn’t need to be able to survive launch stresses, making it potentially lighter and need less propellant, so long as you aren’t planing on dealing with higher stresses, so low acceleration (SEP) and keeping the thing in space, we can achieve this via inflatables, 3d printing and other technologies, may preclude aerobraking. If you go with 3d printing with lunar material or other manufacturing processes, then it makes sense to construct a large space station like space craft in lunar orbit sourcing more advanced components from Earth, possible spin simulated gravity, mainly just for health reasons, not enough to make it feel remotely Earthlike, and while you may put 100 people on BFR to Mars, you could potentially put far more on the space station that may cost less and once in Mars orbit, you would use BFS as a shuttle to carry people and cargo from the orbiting station to the surface, hopefully before the window for the return trip for the station closes, if not you would have 2 or more alternating stations, obviously this means that you would have to be certain you dont wear the BFS heat sheilds so much they cant return to Earth, you would need more propellant production but the price per person to get to Mars would drop

  • windbourne

    yeah, I am not convinced that DSG is really going to happen.
    I suspect that once NG is flying, that Bezo will pay Bigelow to put one in EML1 and other on the moon.

  • publiusr

    I’m an SLS supporter–but unlike some–I want to see Falcon Heavy fly as well. And CZ-9–and whatever the Russians build.

    If anything–I want to see different shapes of rockets fly.

    If Bezos won’t fly Bono-type plug nozzles, maybe Russia could look into that.

    India might do OTRAG.

    I’d like to see an overbuilt OTRAG with fuel rods as the payloads between the rocket tubes.

  • Michael Halpern

    Ahh I would rather not have nuclear rockets, I can support the idea of the SLS, my issue is that its management is an absolute disaster

  • YeahRightPal

    Musk never lets “the holidays” get in the way of ANYTHING.

    Just ask his employees….