• Tony_Morales

    Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

    Launch day can’t come soon enough. Can’t wait to hear those 27 Merlins roar into life 😀

  • Paul_Scutts

    Agreed, Tony. I know that Elon Musk has been playing down the expectations with the first launch of The Heavy, but, IMO, it would be a big thrill to see the Tesla “speeding” along the highway to Mars and to see those boosters land successfully, one, two, three. 🙂 Regards, Paul.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    Why not name this powerful hardware, BFR? And the actual BFR can be renamed, EBFR.

  • If only the powers that be would recognize that this could be America’s next Moon rocket. After a successful FH flight, the next item on the agenda should be to contact ULA to modify their Centaur to become a hydrolox lunar lander.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I think there’s a large contingent of people across the various space communities who don’t want to return to the Moon or go to Mars because they’re afraid of the cost of protracted operations and fear the unknown of colonization. It’s just too much change for them too fast. Commercially too. Look at how the existing com-sat design shops make their reputation squeezing all that electrical power, station keeping fuel, and bandwidth on ultra compact and low mass packages. Once Fh is operational and if it really can launch for the same price as an old Atlas V but deliver as much to GEO as Atlas V did to LEO, what is that going to mean for the price premium the existing high end design shops charge today? The door will open for someone who can slap together a heavy crude bus with massive solar arrays, huge tanks, and a bank of old inefficient transponders who can deliver the same functionality as a Boeing 702 at 3 times the mass, at a quarter the cost. Will that sort of provider come to the fore, and if so will there be buyers? It can happen, but will it? How long did Europe have ships capable of crossing the Atlantic before Spain and Portugal made the decision to colonize across the Atlantic?

  • Bulldog


  • Paul_Scutts

    I disagree with several points you’ve made, Andrew. Firstly, I do not believe that it is a “large contingent” that do not support either a HSF return to the Moon or a HSF mission to Mars. IMO, most (if not all) HSF supporters would be happy to see any BEO mission. Secondly, the average cost to launch an old Atlas V was/is around $100M, after the first couple of successful FH launches, then SpaceX would be able to provide a FH launch using three used cores and I would not be at all surprised that their launch price would be around a current new F9. Time will tell. Regards, Paul.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    ….and reusing those used cores again and again wouldn’t hurt Musk’s pocketbook in the long run…and if there were something practical to come out of this EM drive research, then deep-space crewed missions could become commonplace….actually I think there is some advance technology already quietly in place in the shadow government that would surpass all of that.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The price range for Atlas on missions I’ve been close to were a low of $240 odd million , and and the high $400s, granted they were all government flights. I’m basing my conjectures for Fh on the quoted price (before F9 full thrust) of $160 odd million. Also keep in mind the core vehicle is not a standard Falcon 9 core. It has extra structure for more strength.

    As for my thoughts on the pace of HSF flights. I really hope I’m wrong. I’m mainly looking at the monies spent on flights vs overhead and then thinking of the flight infrastructure needed to conduct Lunar and Mars missions and it seems that the ratio of flight infrastructure/people vs overhead infrastructure/people has to change. That kind of change is traumatic to institutions. The HSF arm of NASA would have to look more like the NSF Antarctic program.

  • therealdmt

    Looks cool. Starting to get excited!

    That is a LOT of engines though; one can really see why Elon has worked to tamp down expectations a bit

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    One contingent that may oppose your suggestion is likely to be SpaceX. SpaceX is committed to BFR, hopefully as soon as 4-7 years. Any plausible development effort is hardly to likely put significant cargo on the Moon, let alone humans, in a shorter time-scale or for less money. Why waste time, effort and money jerry-rigging 20 year old tech to be a lunar lander of extremely limited capability?. Any sort of sustainable effort will very quickly require built-for-the-purpose vehicles, so why not start out with that intention.

    The likes of Blue Origin and Masten are likely also worth including, but, given their history, involving ULA in any sort of development effort is quite likely to end up cost prohibitive. Not to mention, what have they ever done to even demonstrate that they have the technical expertise, let alone the inclination, to be involved in such a project? – when was the last time they landed and reused an rocket booster?, or even showed any interest in such an endeavour?.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Not sure it’s all the engines that’s the problem – more like getting the three guidance computers controlling their engines to play nicely together. It must be quite confusing being a side booster – I’d imagine it plays havoc with your gimballing.

  • Larry J

    Yes, the gimbal control for the side boosters will be interesting. They have to perform in one manner when attached to the central core. The way the engines move to implement pitch, roll, and yaw commands will be different on each side booster. They then have to revert to the standard rules immediately after separation in preparation for the boost-back burn.

  • Jeff2Space

    Unfortunately, the SLS crowd is still quite large. They believe that SLS is “needed” to go back to the moon. I’d certainly like to see a larger Falcon Heavy payload fairing. I’m betting that will be needed anyway for certain US Government payloads. But, since a larger fairing isn’t needed for flight tests, I doubt we’ll see anything like it anytime soon.

  • Jeff2Space

    While the Falcon Heavy core is not the same as a Falcon 9 first stage, it is still intended to be reused. Assuming that barge recovery of Falcon Heavy cores is reasonably successful, used Falcon Heavy core stage reflights ought to be quite common.

  • Jeff2Space

    If anything, lower launch costs ought to enable launches of more new technologies to be tested, like the EM drive thing (which i don’t put much stock in without an actual flight test).

    ULA ought to get off their butts and develop and fly ACES as both an upper stage and as version with much larger tanks to be used as a LEO fuel depot, fuel tanker, and as a lunar TLI stage. With ACES, we shouldn’t need the SLS upper stage.

  • Jeff2Space

    Also separation of the side boosters while the core first stage is still firing will be quite “sporting”. Heavy is definitely in need of at least one test flight to verify that all these “heavy specific” things are tested on an actual launch. Sometimes there is no good substitute for an actual flight test.

  • I can understand the default view that the SLS is needed for returning to the Moon. The only crewed Moon rocket we’ve had was the Saturn V and the SLS is in that class and the Saturn V was only able to get two astronauts on the surface. So the thinking would be that anything less than a SHLV wouldn’t be sufficient for crewed missions to the Moon.

    Also, SpaceX’s single-minded focus on Mars means that they are not thinking much about how their vehicles could be used for the Moon.

    Also, the FH is presently keralox and so could only place about 2.5 tonnes of payload on the lunar surface so insufficient for crewed missions. At that level, a crewed round trip is not possible.

    So, it is a new idea that people are not aware of to think about having a Xeus-like lander start from LEO and go to Lunar delivering 10 tonnes. Also, to start with one-way, uncrewed missions and deliver telerobots, a habitat, equipment, and supplies prior to crew arrival. These would be useful missions prior to human-rating the lander.

    Finally, it would be a new thing to harvest lunar polar ice to refuel the lander so that it could retrieve Saturn V-level of payload from cis-lunar space. This is not required in that we could just launch two FHs for each crewed mission but it would be a significant value-added accomplishment if achieved.

    Many presume that it would take a huge, complex, crewed base with huge mining-type equipment prior to being able to produce (“industrial”) propellant-quantities of water. They haven’t yet seen a scale-model of a single telerobotic excavator successfully going from ice extraction at LCROSS concentrations to distilled water from abrasive regolith stimulant, at cryogenic temperatures, in a vacuum chamber, with a 3-second time delay, with 5/6th of the weight suspended by using tethers.

    So, there’s work to do helping people understand what the practical possibilities are: SpaceDevelopment.org.

  • So, a couple of things that you may not be aware of…

    Elon is on record as saying that he doesn’t have anything against the Moon and that he’d gladly sell FH launches to anyone whom wanted to go there. Money from those FH sales could be used to develop the BFR. I’m proposing that we have a set of Lunar COTS programs and start with a commitment of a block purchase of 10-20 FH flights. Show Elon the money. It will get his interest.

    You also may not be aware of ULA’s extensive interest in going to the Moon. They have a number of papers on it and have the ACES-based Xeus lander concept. They are willing to be innovative if they have the money to do so. If NASA shows them the money, it will get their interest.

    So, it all comes down to a NASA Lunar COTS program much along the lines of Commercial Cargo & Commercial Crew. A program funded at about the same level would again attract the same type of companies to proceed with the program. Money talks.

  • Malatrope

    Since that’s all software, it’s pretty easy. They just have to ensure that all the programmers are using the same physical units…

  • Larry J

    My point is that the side cores will have to switch their engine gimballing software mode very quickly in flight immediately after separation and before beginning the boost back burn a few seconds later. That’s not without challenges or risk.

  • Malatrope

    A mode switch takes microseconds. More challenging is what the physics turns out to be during the separation process. How will the side stages react to the plume of the still-thrusting central stack?

  • Jeff2Space

    I also don’t think people were aware that lunar orbit rendezvous wasn’t “the plan” from the beginning of the Apollo program. Earth orbit rendezvous (several launches on smaller launch vehicles) was also considered. One of the reasons LOR was chosen was because, at the time, it was considered the faster way to get to the moon. And because of the Space Race with the Soviet Union, the attitude was “waste anything but time”. So, Saturn V won out over smaller (proposed) versions of Saturn for lunar missions.

    But, it didn’t have to be that way. If it weren’t for the Space Race, Saturn V likely would never have existed.

    But, IMHO, “space advocates” also have to keep in mind that Saturn V was cancelled because it was considered too expensive! Replicating that mistake with SLS seems quite silly to me. Instead, returning to the moon using EOR (incorporating things like reusable fuel depots, reusable tugs, and reusable lunar landers) makes a lot more sense to me as a sustainable transportation system.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    If we decided as a society to go back to the Moon, NOW, we could do the job well with Atlas V and Falcon 9’s. No need for the heavy. The Fh is great to have in our corner, and I’m really glad it’ll be tested and ready for when we really decide to go back. But it’s not needed. Nor is a Saturn V class booster. An ACES style architecture is fine for going back to the Moon to live. It also fosters what I consider a good thing, infrastructure. Things like in flight re-fueling are I think a good thing to have in your critical path.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I’m quite sure Elon would be happy enough to sell launch services, if that is all the involvement NASA wanted from SpaceX. But there should be no doubt that FH is just a short term stop-gap until BFR comes along. But, what your’e effectively suggesting is to use FH to launch a ULA ACES/Centaur upper stage. Do you really believe than Elon would be keen on that idea?.

    Now, correct me if I’m terribly mistaken, but I suspect that your entire premise is based on something along the lines of “how can we get this return to lunar thing started with more or less what we’ve got now”. First of all this assumes you’d be willing to commit to giving ULA billions of dollars to develop a low functionality lander that does not yet exist. Then even at the most optimistic, is there any chance that they could complete such a project before the mid-2020s, by which time BFR should be in service anyway. And is there anyone who seriously believes that ULA could develop a Centaur/ACES lunar lander more quickly or for less money than SpaceX could develop BFR, or that Blue Origin could develop New Glenn and Blue Moon.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    According to the SpaceX website, FH can put 26,700 kg to GTO and 16,800 kg to Mars, so your calculation of only 2.5 tonnes to the lunar surface seems peculiar. But you’re correct about extracting water from deep lunar polar craters, it will take industrial scale mining to be even plausible, let alone possible. Meanwhile lifting hundreds of tonnes of methalox to LEO will be cheap and straightforward decades earlier.

    “Also, SpaceX’s single-minded focus on Mars means that they are not thinking much about how their vehicles could be used for the Moon.”
    Except that in Elon’s Adelaide presentation he specifically addressed this very point.

  • Too true. But FH is almost here (hopefully) and at “everyday low prices” I think that it’s the logical way to go right now.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Not going to argue against that.

  • Lotsa things to swat down…

    > FH is just a short term stop-gap until BFR comes along.

    FH is not just short term, it is less technologically challenging than the BFR. So that stop-gap solution could be with us for an extended period while BFR strives to become a reality.

    > use FH to launch a ULA ACES/Centaur upper stage. Do you really believe than Elon would be keen on that idea?

    Yeah, I think he would be keen on getting a lotta money to use developing his BFR. A NASA block purchase would allow him to go to investors and raise more money in the near-term.

    > a low functionality lander that does not yet exist.

    10 tonnes to Luna is nothing to sneeze at. A Centaur-derived Xeus is closer to development than the FH was at the beginning of COTS.

    > could complete such a project before the mid-2020s

    Umm, yeah. The Centaur is a highly flown stage. That could be the starting point. VTVL is being done by multiple companies.

    > ULA could develop a Centaur/ACES lunar lander more quickly or for less money than SpaceX could develop BFR

    Umm, yeah. Fixed-price contracts with payment for milestones have been very cost-effective and made good progress. A Centaur-derived Xeus is way more advanced in development than the BFR.

    > Blue Origin could develop New Glenn and Blue Moon.

    BO doesn’t claim that their Blue Moon could be used for anything other than cargo.

  • I’m calculating using the full DV to the lunar surface, the Isp of Merlin vac, and a reasonable assumption about dry weight. I did the equivalent with Blue Moon and got their stated value.

    I use the term “ice harvesting” to describe what would be needed rather than “industrial mining” because the latter is misleading in that it conjures up the mining that we do in Earth.

    Elon’a concept for the Moon is that it would be a side-show of the Martian effort. So, he’s not thinking about what the requirements would be to establish humanity’s first foothold on the Moon.

  • camping

    Are the previously-mentioned papers public information?

  • redneck

    It is possible to get as low as 2.5 tons delivered to the moon from a Falcon9H if you make a bunch of horrible assumptions. 50 tons in LEO is well over 8 tons on the surface at merlin level performance. Not including such insignificant things as refueling and rendezvous that could put the whole 50 odd tons in place at one whack.

  • For quite some years it’s been FH and not F9H. Are you subtracting the dry mass of the lander to count only payload? It is true that one could do multiple FH-keralox launches to increase the payload delivery. But then the landers couldn’t easily use lunar-derived propellant. If we want sustainability, at some point we need a real lunar lander that has both decent performance reusability. Xeus is such an obvious possibility.

  • redneck

    Kerolox landers couldn’t use moon LOX for 70% of their propellant needs? Who knew?

  • Valerij Gilinskij

    The infrastructure currently being created for SLS and Orion will be able to provide no more than two launches of SLS per year. The cost of launching the SLS is completely inadequate, plus another $ 2B per year for the maintenance of infrastructure …
    Therefore, I consider SLS a stillborn monster.

  • duheagle

    Yes. Especially since ACES pretty much is the SLS upper stage. The Exploration Upper Stage is supposed to be powered by four RL-10’s. That’s also the baseline for ACES.

  • Valerij Gilinskij

    In my opinion, in the case of the announcement of “Moon COTS”, after the beginning of the regular flights of Falcon Heavy, Elon Mask will begin to work out the system for refueling the upper stages of Falcon Heavy in orbit. This will allow you to send loads to the Moon up to 60+ tons.

    I can not agree with the popular opinion about the uselessness of DSG. It seems to me that this will be a good logistic site in the near-moon space, where in some time the fuels depot will appear.

    I agree that Elon Mask is very passionate about Mars, and I’m sure he’s right. But this does not mean that others should neglect the Moon. Therefore, it will be quite normal if another company makes a lunar lander. I like the Xeus lender, and I do not mind if it is used, provided that ULA creates it for a reasonable time having spent the right money.

    I agree that Elon Mask is very passionate about Mars, and I’m sure he’s right. But this does not mean that others should neglect the Moon. Therefore, it will be quite normal if another company makes a lunar lander. I like the Xeus lender, and I do not mind if it is used, provided that ULA creates it for a reasonable time having spent the right money.

    But for the launch from Earth, the architecture based on ACES seems to me hopeless. Hydrogen systems are much more expensive than methane (partially) reusable, which should appear in the near future.

  • I believe that LOX makes up about 77% of a lander’s propellant mass. But if one takes into account the mass of propellant needed to ship the RP-1 to the Moon then the LOX harvested from ISRU sources comes to only about 3% of the total mass. The DV from the Earth’s surface to the Moon is huge and Isp for the Merlin engines isn’t particularly great. Put thru the rocket equation yields these numbers.

  • redneck

    You don’t get 77% LOX even as a mixture ratio with kerosene. 340 second merlinvac is just fine with rational architectures. ISRU is a waste of effort at 3%.

  • Paul451

    VTVL is being done by multiple companies.

    So why limit yourself to single concept?

    Why not open up the competition? BO is interested in the moon. SpaceX isn’t, but would probably compete. And it’s hard to imagine anyone bidding higher than ULA or its parents.

  • windbourne

    Considering that Boeing got the Delta IV to do a triad stage, I do not see why SX will have issues here.
    Seriously, they have the stages running fairly decent.

  • windbourne

    Atlas V does not make economic sense. It suffers the same issues as SLS, Delta IV and Ariane 5. All are WAY too expensive for going to the moon.

    OTOH, FH, assuming it does not have issues, makes perfect sense, to be followed along with B.Os New Glenn.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Yeah, I did not articulate my point very well there, so thanks for calling me out on this. The point I really wanted to make was the EELV class boosters, pre Falcon(Atlas and Delta IV) were capable of supporting a small lunar colony effort in the form of a small manned research lab using tanking in LEO and apollo style Lunar Orbit Rendezvous for the trip home with the added complication of tanking in Lunar orbit. Given our experience with the ISS, I don’t fear orbital assembly as a show stopper. Flight rate of the EELV class boosters would be high, but we’ve seen Atlas do that. Space X could support that kind of architecture even better with re-use and now Falcon Heavy. I was trying to say that super heavy boosters are not needed if you REALLY WANTED TO RETURN TO THE MOON. EELV (Atlas/Delta) could have done it. The Falcon program makes it that much easier and only requires that you “really want to return to the moon.”.

  • windbourne

    Rather than assume that NASA should fund all that, it should the same route as COTS did, and SX did with CCXDev. Basically, the bulk of the funding should from the company itself, with NASA kicking in some, and then ability to bid on missions.

    It is insane that we are paying 100% of development, the company owns the equipment and then still charges an arm/leg for a mission. And there are enough companies that can bid for COTS on a lander.

  • Meh. ACES without IVF is just a Centaur. As is the EUS.