With me about to go into detail on the phenomena I call “The Cult of SpaceX” I thought it would serve well to express upfront just what I do actually like about SpaceX, which is quite a bit. In fact, if I didn’t like something about SpaceX the more hostile elements of its fanbase wouldn’t bother me so much: I would just write the whole thing off!
To that end, it’s time to list what I actually do like about SpaceX, with a little contrast and hint as to where I feel things go “too far” in their goals and plans. Let’s begin!
The Falcon 9 Rocket:
First things first, the Falcon 9 rocket is an amazing machine. It uses 9 engines for the first stage, and one engine for the upper stage, both of which are fueled by RP-1 and LOX – basically, rocket fuel grade Kerosine and standard liquid oxygen – and these engines have proven to be quite reliable.
Not only that, they are restartable by design, with the Falcon 9 upper stage using more effecient transfer orbits with multiple restarts to efficiently put heavy payloads into the desired orbits (including orbits around the Sun) using a minimum of fuel.
As for the first stage, it too is restartable, but this feature is used for the return and landing of the stage back to the launch site landing area, LZ-1, or to the drone ship in the ocean downrange of the launch site.
The payload capacity of the Falcon 9 is nothing to shrug off either, as the booster has some of the highest lifting capacity available, with only a few active vehicles more capable. While the lifting capacity is about on par with the long-retired Titan IVB, and slightly less than that of the Space Shuttle, it’s still in the top tier when it comes to getting something into orbit, with the Delta IV Heavy being the top dog on that category.
Of course, the vehicle has had a launch failure, and exploded on the pad – these events I’ll go into more in a future article – but when it works, it works wonderfully.
Going back to the rockets for a moment, the Falcon 9 heavy looks to be an amazing machine. It will use 3 Falcon 9 1st stages to propel into orbit even heavier payloads than the stock Falcon 9 can. This is the same logic that the Delta IV booster has with the Delta IV Heavy, which uses 3 of it’s own “Common Core Boosters” to increase payload capacity.
Of course, more engines means more complexity and more chance for something to go wrong, but given the reliability of the Falcon 9 as it stands, beyond the 2 major failures hinted at above , I see minimal issues with the Falcon 9 heavy, unlike another planned rocket by SpaceX….
That being said, I find their thought that they will be able to recover not just 1 but 3 stages at once from a Falcon Heavy launch a bit too ambitious for what is otherwise a solid enough launch idea.
The SpaceX team clearly care about space and humanities future there. The people you see in interviews, from the people constructing the rockets all the way to Elon Musk himself, clearly feel the same way I, and many others do, in that humanity must become a multi-planet species to survive, and that expanding into space will benefit us in the long run as well as in the present day.
To that end, though, I do disagree with some of the actual plans put in place by Musk, and I feel the public relations done by SpaceX server to “dumb down” space beyond a level it should ever be taken, but again, I’ll go more into that as time passes.
Funny, that’s really all that I can say, because you can only break down a company like this into so many sections – they have a currently good booster that’s damn fine at what it does, has a unique reusability factor in its 1st stage (in that no one else currently flies a reusable booster system) and they have some broad vision that has some good points, but also seems to go far beyond where it should, and serve more of a goal that a political promise does than to act as anything practical to focus on in the short term.
That being said, the fact that these basic elements are what I can say I “like” goes to show just how much there is to actually discuss in more critical detail, which will happen in upcoming articles.