“SpaceX Liftoff”: Competitors originally took the concept of vertically launching rockets and vertical landings as a joke, and now they are scrambling to catch up

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SpaceX Liftoff, In the summer of 2010, months before the first Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Florida, Thomas R. Thomas Zurbuchen and a few friends made a bet that the mission would be successful. His friends are happy to look down on the upstart because it lacks the legacy of industry staples Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Critics say SpaceX may have put a small rocket into space after four tries, but they’re not ready to take on the big guys.

Zu Buchen knew it well. In the spring of 2010, Aviation Week, the Swiss-born scientist who helped establish and run a prestigious graduate space engineering program at the University of Michigan, asked Zurbuchen to write an article on Articles on talent development. As part of the content of this article, Zubuchen listed ten of his best students based on their academic achievements, leadership and entrepreneurial performance in the past ten years, and studied where they got high. To his surprise, half of them didn’t work at the industry’s top companies, but at SpaceX. The result surprised him.

“That was before SpaceX,” said Zurbuchen, who became NASA’s director of scientific exploration in 2016, “so I interview these former students and ask them, ‘Why did you go to work there?’ They go because they Believe. A lot of people accept a pay cut. But they believe in that mission.”

In his piece for Aerospace, Zurbuchen writes about how SpaceX has succeeded in winning the war for talent with inspirational goals. “I’m a bit nervous to bet on the immediate success of Falcon 9,” he wrote, “but in the long run, talent trumps experience, and corporate culture trumps legacy.” He added that in modern aerospace, bureaucracy , rules, and a pathological fear of failure often “poison” the workplace.

The article, published two months after the Falcon 9’s initial flight, caught Musk’s attention. He forwarded the article to all employees, saying that they were the strongest and smartest in the industry, and the world began to notice. Musk also invited Zubuchen to visit the SpaceX factory. During the visit, Musk thanked Zurbuchen, and they discussed those who doubted the company. But then, Zurbuchen recalls, Musk suddenly fixed his trademark alluring gaze on the scientist. That’s the end of their courteous talk. Musk asked a question: Who are the other five students?

“I found that was the point of the whole meeting,” Zurbuchen said. “It wasn’t about me. He wanted them. He wanted five other people.”

Not everyone appreciated the Aviation Week article. Zurbuchen got some phone calls after publication that implicitly, or not so implicitly, threatened that he must be an egghead scholar who had drunk the SpaceX soup. He remembers angry conversations in the aisle, being told in meetings of his ignorance about the launch industry. But Zurbuchen stood by his conclusions. When he talks to his engineering peers at places like MIT or USC, he hears similar things. SpaceX is also influential with their students: the freedom to innovate and the resources to proceed quickly attract the best engineers in the world.

Competitors are also starting to take SpaceX’s success seriously. Falcon 1 was just an annoying little fly to most American aerospace companies, only really threatening Orbital Sciences and its Pegasus rocket. But the Falcon 9 represents a serious challenge to the industry’s power brokers.

ULA enjoys a monopoly on U.S. national security launch contracts, and several large aerospace companies, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Northrop Grumman and ATK Aerospace, carve up other remaining government contracts. Most of the launch business, including NASA. None of these companies welcome a new competitor, especially one that is so potentially disruptive. They responded by starting to fan the political opposition. Just as these contractors have a vested interest in the status quo, so do politicians in Alabama, Florida, Texas, Utah, and other states with a disproportionate number of aerospace jobs.

SpaceX’s rise comes at a pivotal moment in the history of space policy. In 2010, a battle broke out between the White House and Congress over the future of human spaceflight. After the final mission, scheduled for mid-2011, everyone agrees that the space shuttle should be decommissioned as soon as possible. The major aerospace companies, all of which hold large contracts for the space shuttle program, are helping Congress develop a new program to continue building new, equally lucrative government spacecraft and rockets. The Obama White House wants to limit funding for these costly projects, giving upstarts like SpaceX the chance to see if they can drive down the cost of spaceflight. The first Falcon 9 launches, and then someone proposes some kind of referendum on President Obama’s space policy. If the rocket fails, naysayers will be able to justify their argument that the commercial space business is not ready.

“I am very clear that not only my own reputation, but also the success or failure of the Obama administration’s space policy will depend greatly on the results of SpaceX’s launch.” Lori, the deputy administrator of NASA and Obama’s key space adviser at the time. Garver (Lori Garver) said.

You’d think members of Congress would welcome new, American-made rockets into the nation’s space fleet. At the time, most military assets across the country were launched on Atlas V rockets, propelled by Russian-made engines. But space political leaders on Capitol Hill, allied with existing space power brokers, responded only symbolically. Senior Senator Kay from Texas. Bailey. Hutchison (Kay Bailey Hutchison) said, “Make no mistake, even this small success is more than a year behind schedule, and the project deadlines of other private space companies continue to be delayed.” Given that SpaceX is already in Harbin Such a bland response to the huge and growing McGregor testing grounds in Cheeson’s constituency state is far from normal.

Much of NASA’s leadership class viewed the Falcon 9 launch with similar disbelief. With the exception of Garver and a few allies, who see lowering launch costs as NASA’s next key step, everyone resents the Obama administration’s efforts to privatize parts of the space program. Some policymakers sincerely think that SpaceX is too arrogant and its approach is too risky. But the reality is that many NASA executives also have relationships with traditional aerospace companies. Then, and still is, top NASA officials often come and go between the agency and the big contractors. This revolving door effect has helped the space industry maintain some degree of control over the policy direction the agency takes, and it has fueled suspicions of companies like SpaceX that want to shake things up.

But SpaceX will really rectify. After the initial success of the Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX will prove that its Dragon cargo spacecraft can fly safely. Six months after the first Falcon 9 was launched, the rocket’s second mission sent Dragon to space for the first time. In homage to Monty Python’s classic skit, The Cheese Shop, the hold carried a wreath of bruuet cheese. It’s funny to think that the company’s first orbital payload was a RatSat (literally, a mouse satellite), and that the Dragon spacecraft was the first to carry cheese. Three hours after launch, Tianlong landed safely in the Pacific Ocean. Fanciful payloads aside, no private company has ever launched and landed a spacecraft. Then in May 2012, Dragon docked to the International Space Station for the first time. It has since flown another twenty successful space cargo missions.

Reusing rockets has been part of Musk’s plans from the beginning. In all of the Falcon 1 launches, SpaceX not only installed a parachute on top of the first stage of the rocket, but also sent employees to the sea to recover the flight hardware. In 2006, the Falcon “recycling team” was structural engineer Jeff. Richie and the 25-meter army boat “Bridge”.

The very slow bridge was stationed about 16 kilometers away from the area where SpaceX calculated that the first stage of the rocket would fall into the water. After the first launch was confirmed, it drove slowly to the falling area. Communications at sea were poor, and crews on board were not immediately informed that there were no rockets to recover.

Before the launch, SpaceX published the potential impact zone in Merchant Shipping Notices. When the Army boat arrived at the drop point, Richie was surprised to find a Chinese boat waiting there, pretending to be fishing. This doesn’t seem to be just a coincidence.

“This trawler was fishing in a few hundred square kilometers of open ocean, at the precise point where it hit the water, less than two hours before it hit the water,” he said. It doesn’t matter if you fall here with a parachute.”

Only later did SpaceX see no hope of catching the first stage of the rocket after passing through Earth’s atmosphere and using a parachute. It returned to Earth at supersonic speeds and would have burned up long before its parachute had been released. But at the time, Richie felt the pressure to find the first quarter. It was an almost impossible task, because after the launch, he had to scan the sky and sea for a white, city-bus-sized object that fell into the white-sprayed sea more than twenty-five kilometers away. On his second mission he made the mistake of telling the Bridge crew that he offered a hundred-dollar reward to the first person to spot the rocket as an inducement. The problem is that every minute or two someone falsely claims to have seen the first stage of the rocket.

“False sightings kept being announced,” Richie said. “We zig-zagged the entire area, chasing ghosts of the first stage rocket. I had the bad idea, and I haven’t done that stupid thing since.”

This illustrates Musk’s commitment to reuse, sacrificing precious mass on the Falcon 1, and installing a parachute on the discarded hardware in hopes of recovering the first section. His argument for recycling is simple: If airlines jettisoned the 747 after every intercontinental flight, passengers would have to pay $1 million for the ticket. Likewise, if every rocket that goes into space falls into the ocean, the cost of going to space will never be affordable for the masses, only for a few wealthy countries and a few professional astronauts. In order to make humans a transplanetary species, Musk seeks to reduce the cost of going to space and continue to fly to other planets.

Still, the early payoff of the reuse experiment was a hit. “We were naive and expected that we would put a parachute on this thing and it would be recovered,” Musk said. “We were such idiots.”

SpaceX has never been able to do it with the Falcon 1 rocket. Relying on the Falcon 9 rocket also fumbled for a long time. During its initial launch in 2010, the first stage of the rocket ruptured during re-entry. The company later recovered rocket debris, including the helium pressure tank, the buoy parachute and the casing of one of the engines. When Musk says they’re “big idiots,” it’s because the company’s engineers don’t really understand the futility of parachuting against the energy of heavy rockets re-entering the atmosphere at multiples of the speed of sound.

To find a way, SpaceX had to provide some sort of heat shield to protect the rocket as it crashed through the atmosphere. More importantly, they must be proficient in technologies that NASA only studies in simulations and wind tunnels. To slow down the Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX has to restart the rocket’s engines high in the atmosphere, where the rocket is traveling at Mach 10. It is conceivable that many engineers were concerned about the stability of the first stage of the rocket during this period of turbulence, when the rocket engine would ignite and burn directly into the rapidly approaching atmosphere. SpaceX began testing the technology, called supersonic reverse propulsion, back in September 2013. Finally, the reentry team had to figure out a mechanism to guide the rocket toward the landing site in the denser air. If the goal is to quickly recover the rocket and make it fly again, throwing it in the ocean might not be a good idea. The company learned its lesson about saltwater corrosion on its first launch.

It took a lot of work and failure, but on the twenty-first flight of a Falcon 9 rocket in 2015, the company landed the rocket safely at night on a brand new launch facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. On stage, only three kilometers away from the launch point. After this nighttime launch and landing, with just three days until Christmas, employees at the company’s Hawthorne factory cheered loudly and began chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A!”

Musk was excited. “I’m not at all confident that we’re going to be successful, but I’m really happy,” he said of that night. “It’s been thirteen years since SpaceX started. We’ve been through a few times. I think everyone here is happy.” Crazy.” Before landing off the coast of Florida, SpaceX intensively experimented with landing the rocket on an autonomous drone ship deployed off the Atlantic Ocean, along the flight path of the launch site. It’s simple physics. Shortly after liftoff, the rocket will tip forward, gradually changing from a vertical to a horizontal position with the ground, ready to enter orbit.

The effect of this phenomenon is that when it separates from the second stage rocket, the position of the first stage has deviated from the launch site at super high speed. Not so good if you want to salvage rockets. To bring the rocket all the way back to its landing site in Florida, the first engine had to burn for a long time, which required a lot of fuel. Any fuel used for the return trip can’t be used for the climb, so it means a lot of sacrifice in the mass of the rocket that can be sent to orbit. One of the countermeasures is to send a ship hundreds of kilometers away to catch the rocket at the extension of the flight direction.

However, it is difficult to land the rocket on a ship with waves in the sea. It would take a very good computer program to make the rocket rendezvous with the autonomous unmanned ship, and no one has ever done this before. Until someone makes it happen. On April 8, 2016, a Falcon 9 rocket launched a Thai communication satellite into high earth orbit. Then, the first stage of the rocket landed like a magical creature on the unmanned spaceship dubbed “Of Course I Still Love You”. on board. It was one of the most jaw-dropping things I’ve ever seen. For the first time in my life, I felt as if I had witnessed something as cool as my parents had witnessed the Apollo moon landing in 1969.

Then they did it again. again. Suddenly, SpaceX’s hangar in Florida was filled with the first stage of the rocket. “Even we were surprised that we suddenly had ten first stage rockets or something,” Koenigsmann said. “We thought, well, we didn’t expect that.”

Today, it is not uncommon for SpaceX to launch a rocket, recover it on land or at sea, and launch it again a month or two later. In less than three years, the paradigm has completely shifted. Reusing a rocket used to seem like a novelty, now throwing it away almost feels like a waste. The company’s competitors had originally made a joke of the concept of launching a rocket vertically, landing it vertically, and using it again within a few months. Now they hurried to catch up. State-run rocket agencies in China, Russia, Japan and Europe all fund reusable research and development programs to some extent. Various U.S.-based rocket companies are also seeking to compete with SpaceX, including Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance.

SpaceX didn’t stop there. In 2018, the company launched its Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time, giving it the most powerful rocket in the world. Basically, this giant rocket is three Falcon 9 first stages strapped together to form the massive first stage. In less than a decade, the company evolved from launching a single-engine rocket to having twenty-seven engines. The world has never seen such a thing. Then, the two side thrusters returned to Earth and landed side by side, almost like a pair of synchronized swimming angels descending from the sky.

Even Donna, who is often indulged in personal interests and the current political situation. President Trump, too, took note of the graceful launch and landing of the Falcon Heavy rocket. “Look at the engine coming back down, there’s no wings or anything like that,” he said at one campaign event. “It’s like, what did we see? Is this sci-fi?”

It sure looks like science fiction, but it’s not. Nor is the company rewriting the global launch industry. In the mid-2010s, SpaceX began to deliver on the promise of low-cost, fast launches. A basic Falcon 9 launch costs about $60 million, and the company undercuts every other major orbital rocket on the market. Commercial satellite operators, long dependent on Europe, Russia or China to send their big birds into space, are suddenly starting to flock back to the United States for the first time in decades. SpaceX already has about two-thirds of the world’s commercial satellite launch business by 2020. Certain large fleet operators are expanding their operations here and there just to make sure SpaceX’s competitors don’t go out of business.

With the Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX succeeded where the Falcon 1 failed in its quest to diversify its customers. The Falcon 9 is powerful enough to capture a significant chunk of the commercial satellite market, as well as NASA’s science missions and the Air Force’s military payloads. SpaceX, which also won cargo and crew contracts from NASA, is now looking to outer space. SpaceX was able to use these profits to invest in Musk’s most ambitious “Starship program” (Starship program), which he believes is important to sending enough people and cargo to Mars to establish a self-sustaining settlement.

The company’s success has shaken the aerospace community to its core. In 2016, ULA vice president of engineering Brett. Brett Tobey gave a candid talk at a seminar at the University of Colorado Boulder. He was not known to have been taped, but his comments were later made public. In his speech, Toby admitted that United Launch Alliance and its fleet of Atlas and Delta rockets had monopolized the launch work of the US Air Force before the advent of SpaceX, and now they have no hope of competing on price.

“We had to figure out how to get these cases for a much lower cost,” he said of the national security category of launch contracts. Toby also admitted that his company charges the government about three times more for launches than SpaceX. He left ULA a few days later, but Toby was just saying what the industry already knew. In just over a decade since its founding, SpaceX has disrupted the global launch industry.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, SpaceX has established a new space spirit that lowers the cost of going to space. It’s proving to private companies and private capital that you can do great things in space in partnership with governments. After investors have witnessed the success of SpaceX with the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets, it is easier for entrepreneurs to attract funds to do various space ventures.

“It’s helping the whole industry,” said Peter. Peter Beck said his successful company Rocket Lab had launched a dozen small Electron rockets in New Zealand since 2017.

“They’re proving that private companies can successfully put cargo and satellites into orbit. And not just launching, but building spacecraft, they’re proving that commercial companies can join the realm that normally falls under government.”

Nearly two decades have passed since Musk first started seriously thinking about going to Mars. In an interview in early 2020, his mind drifted back to the original intention of entering the space industry. He recalled that gray rainy day with his friend Ardio. Lacey’s drive on the Long Island Expressway, and his frustration when he later checked NASA’s website and found no new plans. He couldn’t understand why humans were stuck in low Earth orbit since the Apollo program. So he made a life-changing decision to commit himself to the goal of landing on Mars, a commitment that only grew stronger with time.

“That was nineteen years ago, and we still haven’t been to Mars,” he said.

“Not far,” I replied.

“Yeah,” he echoed, “not close. It’s fucking infuriating.”

It was this passion that ignited Elon. Musk, drives him to push his team forward every day. Decisions in his world are based on a simple calculation: will this get humans to Mars faster? Nothing else was more important on his mind. While we’re not close to Mars yet, we’re now getting closer by leaps and bounds than ever before. Musk’s first step is to drive down launch costs. He did it against all odds. Now his company, with Musk’s constant urging and two decades of accumulated knowledge, is building a starship vehicle that will one day send colonists to Mars.

SpaceX has undeniably come a long way from its humble beginnings in El Segundo and the urgency to attempt a launch in the hills north of Los Angeles. It was a period of recklessness, first running out of liquid oxygen, then encountering bureaucracy, and finally running to Kwajalein. But what started from there changed the world. Someday, maybe SpaceX will change another world too — transforming Mars from a lifeless red planet to a green, green Eden.

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