Thinking Inside The Box

Last week, I wrote about NASA’s technology demonstrator projects, and how they’ve been runaway successes – both the Mars rovers and the current copter came from such experimental beginnings. I argued that letting some spirit of experimentation into an organization like NASA is probably very fruitful from time to time.

And then a few days later, we saw SpaceX blow up a rocket and completely shred its launch platform in the process. Or maybe it was the other way around, because it looks like the concrete thrown up by the exhaust may have run into the engines, causing the damage that would lead to the vehicle spinning out of control. SpaceX was already working on an alternative launch pad using water-cooled steel, but it ran what it had. They’re calling the mission a success because of what they learned, but it’s clearly a qualified success. They’ll rebuild and try again.

In comparison, the other US-funded rocket run by Boeing, the SLS suffered years of delays, cost tremendous amounts of money, and has half the lift of SpaceX’s Super Heavy. But it made it to space. Science was done, many of the CubeSats onboard got launched, the unmanned capsule orbited the moon, and splashed down safely back on earth. They weren’t particularly taking any big risks, but they got the job done.

The lore around SpaceX is that they’re failing forward to success. And it’s certainly true that they’ve got their Falcon 9 platform down to a routine, at a lower cost per launch than was ever before possible, and that their pace has entirely shaken up the conservative space industry. They’ll probably get there with their Starship / Super Heavy too. SLS was an old-school rocket, and they had boring old flame diverters on their launch pad, which means that SLS will never take off from Mars. On the other hand, one of the two systems has put a payload around the Moon.

Maybe there’s something to be said for thinking inside the box from time to time as well?

144 thoughts on “Thinking Inside The Box

  1. >In comparison, the other US-funded rocket run by Boeing, the SLS suffered years of delays, cost tremendous amounts of money, and has half the lift of SpaceX’s Super Heavy. But it made it to space.

    Gee, it’s almost as if Elon Musk was over-promising and under-delivering as usual.

    After all, the SpaceX Super Heavy does not HAVE a lift capacity until it can actually lift. The commentators are making the mistake of eating the menu before the food arrives.

    1. I’m not sure you understand what those terms mean. Maybe you have a personal hatred of Musk that clouds your judgement?

      Musk promised the Super Heavy would likely explode on the pad.
      He delivered that it launched, cleared the tower, and went well past max-Q.

      So clearly he under-promised and over-delivered.

      Meanwhile the Senate Launch System is decades behind schedule and destroys 4 reusable RS-25 engines every time it launches. It’s a disgusting waste of money with the primary purpose of bringing taxpayer money to certain Congressional districts.

      1. I certainly don’t like Musk, but the promise we’re talking about is the Super Heavy getting completed and functional as outlined. Blowing up prototypes isn’t yet cashing in the promise. We still have to see if the project goes to completion, or whether Musk will simply announce an Even Bigger Rocket ™ and retcon this effort as a stepping stone to that, like did with his cars.

        1. “I certainly don’t like Musk…”
          Says all we need to know about the rest of your comments and you to some extent.
          The fact is, he is an extremely successful multibillionaire and you’re not…

          1. Some of us actually have STEM degrees. Musk doesn’t.

            What the Elongated Muskrat does have is parents who owned a slave labor emerald mine and being born rich.

            Reports from his employees tell us that part of their job is keeping him from interfering with their work, and his handling of Twitter makes that seem very plausible.

            Is he successful? Yeah, he is, because when you’re rich enough it’s hard not to be. “To turn $100 into $110 takes skill, dedication, and luck. To turn $1,000,000 into $1,100,000 is inevitable.”

          2. “The fact is, he is an extremely successful multibillionaire and you’re not…”

            Says all we need to know about the rest of your comments and you to some extent.

            – You like a person based on how much money they make.

            – You can’t imagine someone else could possibly dislike a person overall AND still separate individual events and statements involving that person from their overall impression of the person. Likely this indicates that you cannot do that yourself and don’t really comprehend the fact that others might have different mental capabilities from yourself.

            I bet you watch a lot of Fox.. or at least did before they fired o’l Tuckey.

      2. spectacularly and expensively blowing up large rockets could have been excused, or sold as “experimenting” in 1955, not in 2023. But not even back then would have been sold as a “success”.
        This is by now a well understood technology; hard and expensive but understood, and NASA routinely does it since decades.
        No flame diverter just to see what happens? lol, is anybody swallowing this up for real? The real reason for this doomed launch was probably some necessary milestone to reach in order to get more money from nasa or something, and to hell with 39 expensive engines and all surrounding hardware.
        even the FTS apparently failed and i am sure FAA is closely looking at this clusterfup.
        “and destroys 4 reusable RS-25”
        Those were used engines coming from the shuttle program.
        Yes, nasa has become expensive, bureaucratic and risk-averse, but their stuff works.

        1. As this was meant to be a disposable rocket even with a 100% success perfect flight plan where everything worked exactly as intended or better… It was expected to be lost, it is a test flight… They just lost it a little earlier than the absolute best case they hoped for.

          NASA’s few recent launches on their own platforms have not had a great success rate – there is a reason all the shuttles got grounded and most NASA launches since where from Russian vehicles or now SpaceX… Rockets are a well understood tech in principle but even the best launch vehicles have a failure rate above zero and as soon as you create a new one pushing any boundary of the technology forward you will get more failures in the learning phase of that new tech. On the whole SpaceX has an astonishingly good record on successful missions to failures, even in the earlier days when the landing process failed the payloads were delivered, and still for a reasonable launch price it seems.

        2. Could you please point me to the critique of ESA for the first flight launch failure of the Ariane 5?

          You know, the rocket the US recently used to launch their expensive 10 billion dollar national prestige project called the James Webb telescope?

          Or how about your critique of JAXA for their recent first flight launch failure of their new rocket, which wasted a 200 million dollar earth observing satellite with it?

    2. > “Gee, it’s almost as if Elon Musk was over-promising and under-delivering as usual.”

      I’m not sure you understand what those terms mean.
      How many billion-dollar companies have you founded or co-founded?
      Musk has Tesla, SpaceX, PayPal, Boring, OpenAI.
      List your companies that have ever delivered – over or under – at all, please?

      1. I’ve been to many restaurants, but never delivered food to customers. I still expect what’s on the menu to be delivered to me though.

        Just arguing for the other side 😁 I can see your point of view as well!

        1. Musk promised that Super Heavy would probably explode on the pad.
          SpaceX delivered a rocket that instead launched and made it well past max-Q.

          The issue is that Dude says Musk over-promised and under-delivered, when that is *obviously* false.

          Had Musk conceded the need for a flame diverter and waited, it probably would have completed the entire flight profile. But he is a bit impetuous, and SpaceX can afford the damage.

          1. Musk also enjoys the maverick principal: tell him what ever you want, doesn’t mean he’s accepting your advice. Trait of personalities i suppose

      2. 33 raptor engines performing FLAWLESSLY every time is a tall order. Landing Starship has only been done ONCE and now Musk changes to a Godzilla capture that has A NEVER BEEN DONE. Moon landing by 2025? NOT A CHANCE IN HELL.

        There is a tipping point in complexity and I think the whole Starship concept is there. If success is measured by a successful moon landing and return IN ADDITION TO a 100% reusable booster and Starship second stage, I’ll eat my words if it happens by 2030, if ever!

        1. Really no way to tell yet, lots of bits for Starship have already passed many stages of testing in isolation with out any major technical flaws that seem impassible. But it is still a challenging concept that could throw things out.

          The falcon-9 had many expressing similar sentiments and it was a very similar problem of doing something challenging but built mostly out of existing knowledge. In operational requirements terms it is really well established and very old tech to put Starship on the moon for the most part – that stuff doesn’t need reinventing! And SpaceX already does on a smaller scale 90% of the landing concept for Starship, the degree of control they already have of rocket motors and bodies is well on the way to making such a landing possible.

          So if the next test launch of the system works nearly as well as this one did as a step forward it is a plausible timeframe, possibly even conservative – the whole stack thing flies really quite well despite trashing its launchpad and having engines out from the start, the starship uppers have already gone through a fair few prototypes to a last standalone test article that was relatively close to the expected final product in functionality…

          Landing on the moon successfully once and having the Falcon-9 of today style rapid reusable stages with that really impressive reliability and cost per launch is an entirely different thing – Falcon-9’s worked many times before becoming anything like as reusable as they have since proven to be, with some ideas falling aside entirely – like catching the fairings by boat, and more than a few upgrades. No doubt Starship will be much the same. There is always learning to be done but that doesn’t meant it can’t ever work or even work in that aggressive time frame.

          Though to be entirely clear I don’t expect Starship to be actually really in service for quite some time – even if it works flawlessly on a launch this year (which seems unlikely) – it is so big a platform that it won’t be worth using it for most space tasks for a prolonged period as everything is being built for the currently proven launch systems and you don’t spend lots of your fancy satalite (etc) that may never be launchable as Starship isn’t flying yet during your design phase, and while Starship might be able to co-lauch a heap of Falcon-9, Ariane (etc) family targeted systems at once it is then up against the low cost and proven reliability of the existing launch platforms and the extra fuel the orbiter will need to traverse to its intended orbit.

      3. Musk didn’t found Tesla, he bought it with his daddy’s money. I don’t know whether he was involved in founding any of the rest of them, but if he actually were, his role was the wallet. We’ve seen with Twitter how good he is at actually running anything.

      4. “How many billion-dollar companies have you founded or co-founded?”

        That should never be a factor in checking if someone is delivering what they promised or not.
        These are matters of fact. If you are interested in determining if Elon delivered what he promised just look back at what he promised and compare it to what was delivered. (Do this yourself, I’m more interested in addressing the billionaire worship than Elon’s promises)

        It’s true, he said this rocket was expected to blow up, and did so, not really an under-delivery there.
        But.. if you go back through all of Elon’s public posts throughout the years.. what various years has he promised boots or even permanent colonies by? Have any of those dates passed already? If not.. take the earliest of them.. does it look like he’s still on track for that? That’s how just about anyone capable of reading words and calculating dates can judge how he delivers on his promises or not.

        So you think.. don’t question or criticize someone just because they founded big companies… what a joke. That’s like saying “Don’t criticize -insert your most hated historical dictator, king, emperor, etc…- until you have lead a nation. What a dumb thing to say!

        Also.. Tesla and PayPal.. I know he didn’t found those ones. How’s the Boring company doing on that SanFrancisco to LA tunnel or whatever it was… That whole tunneling and vacuum train idea has been sooo thoroughly debunked. It’s almost as impractical as his idea of using spaceships for transcontinental flights. How’s that one coming again? One might say he “made PayPal and Tesla” great. One might argue how much of that was leadership and how much of it was inserting his parents blood diamond money into PayPal or PayPal profits into Tesla. From what I’ve read by the engineers at SpaceX that’s what he is best for, injecting his money which certainly does help the company grow. Then the good engineers keep him busy so he can’t turn around and hurt the company too bad. Except of course for Twitter where he fired everyone that might keep him in check. How’s that one doing these days? Is Twitter great yet? LMAO

    3. Yeah this is obvious Musk derangement syndrome.
      NASA is a joke now. Utter joke. American institutional quality has degraded to such a point that it can’t do missions in many decades that took our grandfathers a few years to do for the first time ever with far less advanced hardware. The results are undeniable. NASA is done. We decided to abandon the stars so we could feed the global south for eternity, accept it.

      1. I’m used to take the position of disparaging bureaucrats and government as being incompetent, but when it comes to very large engineering projects dealing with new development, the role of management and organization cannot be ignored. They’re doing the hard work of defining what is to be done, how it should be done, and how to ensure it gets done – and most importantly, how to know that you’re getting what you’ve ordered. Getting things done successfully is a gargantuan task when your deadline is “by the end of the decade”. It completely and utterly eclipses the ability of any individual.

        The present problem is people with a half of a business degree, another half in engineering, who think they can single-handedly steer the whole thing, playing the CEO-CTO who swoops down from above to the production floor to do a half-glance on what is being done, bypassing the middle management, and then returning to their spires to plot the next move that gets the most money out of the gullible public – and doing the same simultaneously at multiple companies! Good grief, the next person down the line must be a nervous wreck.

        1. Do you mean the management that set the base parameters for the space shuttle?
          That thing was designed when any space technology was still highly experimental and the technology to design a “reusable” space craft simply was not ready yet, and they must have known that when they started that project. Result was that the launch cost for payloads with that thing was 2 to 3 times higher as other technology of that era. What is “reusable” about a gazillion very fragile tiles that all have different dimensions and have to be hand crafted to fit? On top of that, parts were made in different factories because of “politics”, with the result of O-rings in places there should not have been O-rings at all, but just a continuous piece of metal, and that lead to another failure.

          Musks way of building rockets cheap and making a lot of them, make a bit of fireworks and re-iterate to improve them is apparently still the valid way to success.

          The error in the Hubble main mirror has also been measured at least thrice and disregarded each time. I’m pretty sure lots of engineers have said “Hey this does not look right, we have to figure this out”, and then management said, meh, that costs time and money, let’s put it under the carpet and pretend it’s not there. I think Nasa cooperates a lot with Boing(k) The rotten management which lead eventually to the MAX disaster is sort of the same thing.

    4. This is ENTIRELY about the FAA and Army Core of Engineers and the loooong permitting process. For stability the launchpad has to reach into the “water table” (whatever that means when you are on an ocean beach). This means everyone from EPA to FAA signing off on changes after a nice long period of lucrative subcontracts to “environmental consultants”. Then double it because Musk embarrasses the government planners in many areas of endeavor.

      SpaceX would have had a full diverter and flood if not for the government delays. Delays cost a lot and I suppose it became worth the risk to get moving on testing. Aside from money, long delays cause a brain-drain as top engineering people leave to work on challenges that are active.

    5. You have to realize that the legacy aerospace companies enjoy the fruits of all of the research done post WW2 on rockets funded by the us military. Both the atlas and delta rockets are modernizations of rockets that exploded many many many times before they made it to orbit and we’re originally designed and funded for ICBM launchers.

      Even the space shuttle boosters were adaptations of ICBM rockets built by the same companies that made Minuteman missiles. The space shuttle itself was really built for the KEYHOLE series of spy satellites, a severely near sighted version of Hubble.

      Before musk and falcon 9 came along the space industry was stagnant. Only now are new rockets being designed and tested to compete. It’s a great thing, whatever your views on Elon’s twisted beliefs. Most visionaries are a bit crazy, read up about Ford and Edison sometime.

      1. “Most visionaries are a bit crazy” Ah yes, some more:

        And probably many more.
        The sad thing is that as the world gets smaller and companies get bigger, the creative minds tend to get pushed out by the management types. “they don’t fit in the team”, and are “too difficult to control”. This is also made clear in a book about Skunkworks I read many years ago. (Sorry forgot it’s title).

    6. So, what exactly is the point you’re driving at? That we should all tell SpaceX to shut down forthwith because they’re silly and the Falcon 9 and its derivatives are just a 200-plus times lucky fluke? That NASA have it all under control and don’t waste our time? That Tesla is not really a car company that’s sold over 4 million vehicles? Or that you just like arguing with people and bashing anything even tangentially related to Elon Musk? You can for sure have a go at his moral decisions, his management style, his politics, his handling of Twitter, etc. But it’s hard to reasonably and with intellectual honesty argue that Tesla hasn’t fomented a total revolution in the way the world views electric vehicles; similarly that SpaceX hasn’t turned the orbital launch market completely on its head. For that matter, that PayPal hasn’t completely changed how money flows via the internet. Again, curious as to your actual intent to convey information here.

  2. >it’s certainly true that they’ve got their Falcon 9 platform down to a routine

    Then again, that is a more conventional rocket that doesn’t push the envelope on the technical side of matters, because it and the engineers who designed it were inherited from JPL/NASA.

    1. It’s also just *smaller*. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist (ha!) to realize that scaling up the amount of explosives (and, in Falcon SH’s case, number of engines) naturally has to lead to more chances at a launch failure. It’s tough to compare because of the huge statistics differences, since most of the super-heavy launch vehicles have only a relatively small number of launches anyway.

      1. The Soviets already went down that road with adding many smaller engines with the N1 super heavy launch platform as a rival to the Saturn system, and it was a 0/4 failure. Exploded on the pad or in the air every time. SpaceX’s Super Heavy is about 50% bigger than the N1.

        So while SpaceX is lauded as a trailblazer, they’ve still only caught up to 1967 in terms of rocketry.

        1. The N1 was quite advanced even. It employed a form of thrust augmentation by passing air between the engines. The individual engines designed for the rocket were later sold to US aerospace companies and used in Soyuz rockets.

          1. AFAIK, that “thrust augmentation” idea wasn’t included. In origin, it would have “only” 24 engines (the 24 outer ring) and the central part would be “hollow”, allowing to pass air. But then they added the extra six internal engines.

          2. From the description, it was in place. It was part of the design as it served to cool the engine clusters anyways. The augmentation was just as much a side effect as an intentional feature.

        2. Comparing SpaceX to a Soviet-era rocket built with slide rules, vacuum tubes, and forced labor is laughable. Specious, at best.

          If we are going to make specious comparisons: SpaceX hasn’t killed any astronauts yet, so I guess they still haven’t caught up to 1967 NASA in terms of rocketry either?

          1. And yet the Saturn V flew – despite being built by the lowest bidder. Don’t discount engineers of the past – they knew well what they were doing.

            SpaceX hasn’t flown any astronauts on their more “unconventional” rockets, have they?

          2. Not discounting the engineers. Discounting the Soviets. That system of government has been proven to deliver sub-optimal results and massive democide. Even more sub-optimal than a democratic republic! ;-)

            Saturn 5 was also far cheaper than SLS is at only about $1.5 billion/launch (current dollars) vs. over $4 billion/launch for SLS. (I was wrong, I thought it was only $2B/launch for SLS.)

            All SpaceX Astronauts have flown on “unconventional” rockets, i.e. the fully-reusable nine-engine Falcon 9.

          3. Still, the engines they designed were not sub-par, as they went to become parts of the most reliable and cheapest launch systems with customers from the west lining up for access to orbit. It just didn’t work out for the N1 because of the inherent complexities in operating so many engines in a single rocket.

            And the Falcon 9 is more conventional than you would make it out to be. Has a history all the way down to Apollo with re-used designs.

        3. The N1 had a total failure rate because Soviet metallurgy wasn’t up to the design of their closed cycle rocket engines.

          The Soviets knew they didn’t have the material technology to build monster engines like the open cycle F1. The western countries couldn’t figure out how to make a closed cycle engine work and declared it to be impossible.

          So the Soviets blew up one test engine after another until they figured out how to make the closed cycle work. More thrust for the reaction mass used, but still smaller and less powerful than the big western engines.

          The solution was to use a lot of the smaller, more efficient engines.

          Unfortunately many of those engines, no matter how carefully built and inspected in the 1960’s, had fatal flaws, as did various other parts of the N1 rockets.

          The engines that were hidden from the Soviet government later became an expensive game of BeanBoozled. Some were refurbished, examined with the best 21st century technology, and still some turned out to be barf flavor instead of peach. After a couple of very costly failures, the old engines got relegated to museums and all new engines based on their design went into production.

          There’s a very interesting documentary on those Soviet rocket engines, titled “The Engine that came in from the cold”.

  3. Hmmm, so you want to compare a single launch of brand new engine design, the most complicated and highest pressure ever, along with the most engines working together ever, to a program that started in the 70’s (after all sls was reuse of shuttle technology) and cost more than 10x more? That’s insane thinking. Elon overpromised? He said 50/50 of getting off the launch pad! He showed he really thought that by not even having g the team program landing maneuvers in. Boostback was there, but it was going to “hard land” as was stage 2. It had a deorbit programmed, but no landing. Why waste the time if you don’t think it’s even going to make it to orbit? Just in case it does, he didn’t want to leave space junk, so the bare minimum to accomplish this was programmed in. That’s not overpromising. Quite the opposite. It reached almost 40km! Damaged! That’s an amazing success!

    So, when the budget hits shuttle dev plus sls dev (not including shuttle missions), or when the time reaches shuttle dev plus sls dev, you’re comparison is valid. Until then, enjoy the show, speculate, and even make fair comparisons, just make sure your comparisons are apples to apples…or maybe dollars to dollers, or years to years. But not what you’re doing, years to decades. Or billions to 100’s of billions. Your comparison is off by orderS of magnitude!

    1. > Elon overpromised? He said 50/50 of getting off the launch pad!

      That’s not quite the point. What Musk promised is his ability to eventually pull it off. Showing off blowing rockets is just entertaining the investors and sponsors.

        1. Those were Starship prototypes, not Superheavy prototypes. This was the first launch of the booster.

          Remember when the debate was whether SLS would launch before Falcon Heavy? Yeah…

          1. That was just Musk sniping because he wanted to get Starship funding from NASA. He’s got that now, and golly gee, magically all that stopped. You may also note that after the Starship launch attempt, NASA’s administrator specifically mentioned in-orbit refueling, because that’s the key thing that allows them to transition away from SLS entirely, which is what NASA’s wanted to do for *forever*.

          2. (This is a reply to Pat)

            You’ve got that backwards. It was NASA administrator Bolden who said that SLS was real while Falcon Heavy was vaporware.

            And it was NASA that didn’t want to have anything to do with in-orbit refueling, because the mere mention of it would cause Senator Shelby to drastically cut their funding.

          3. Oh, you’re talking about the *first* sniping – I missed that th said “heavy” not “super-heavy.” Musk later sniped back at NASA with SLS’s delays (which is a stupid criticism, the money was never there) saying Starship (with SH) would launch first and SLS would be obsolete by the time it launched.

            The Bolden/Musk tiff’s different than the later tiff. They were both about funding, though, in opposite directions. With the Heavy tiff NASA was at risk of not getting funding, with the SH/Starship tiff, SpaceX needed funding to justify Starship.

            Also, you’re confusing a *public* stance with a *private* stance. Yes, obviously, NASA couldn’t do anything public to even remotely suggest SLS isn’t important, but they *don’t* want to be in the rocket business.

          4. I believe NASA was never supposed to be in the rocket business, but simply doing the science and coordinating the activities, but the way they got sold to the public meant that NASA got all the credit from simply putting their logo stickers on everything.

        1. The talk is about SLS having half the launch capacity, while the SH hasn’t lifted anything yet or made it to orbit, so it’s way too early to talk about Musk beating SLS with an unproven platform.

        2. And yes, if all old signs keep, Musk may keep launching and blowing up rockets and then suddenly shaking yet another new rocket out of his sleeves as a distraction and diversion when he can’t make this one work reliably.

          Same as with the cars. His goal posts are on rollers so they’re easier to push around.

          1. He’s launches more rockets, more often, with more total mass than anybody in history. Goal posts reached!

            He’s shipping more electric vehicles than anybody ever and, true to his original stated purpose, has made electric vehicles practical and even desirable and effectively forced the global automotive industry to go electric to compete. Goal posts reached!

            I give credit where credit is due even if I don’t like the person who has earned it.

          2. >true to his original stated purpose, has made electric vehicles practical and even desirable

            Not quite…

            And NIssan sold more EVs until very recently. You’re grossly overstating his role – Tesla is the Apple of electric cars, not the 80’s Apple but the company that intentionally targets the upper market niche to sell at high prices to a small minority of users. They resolutely failed to produce a “folk electric car” that they promised, after backpedaling and lying about their promises thrice.

          3. >made electric vehicles practical

            One problem with that statement, and the reason why other manufacturers are falling behind Tesla in EV market share is the fact that building an electric car in the $25k market bracket makes one pretty crappy, so nobody wants to buy or make them.

            Other manufacturers are trying hard to cater to the common folks who can’t drop $40-50k on a car, and are seeing lower sales because electric vehicles can’t actually touch the $25k price point. They fall just above what most people would consider affordable, or they fall short of what most people would consider practical.

            Tesla originally promised a three-step plan starting from the Roadster, through a Luxury Model, to a People’s Car, but the Roadster failed its promise, Model S was twice the price that Musk told it would be, and then they branched off into Model X, Model Y… and Model 3 became what Model S was supposed to be… with reduced range.

          4. I humbly suggest not letting your hatred blind you and check your facts before commenting. The numbers are easy to find.

            “And Nissan sold more EVs until very recently. ”

            False. Unless by “very recently” you mean a decade ago, 2014, then true.

            Tesla has sold more than 4 million vehicles.
            Nissan hasn’t even hit 400,000 electrics sold.

            Mind you, I don’t like Teslas and would not buy one. But I’m not blinded by hatred of the man who represents them.

          5. Before you complain about the average price of cars:

            70-80% of car sales are second hand. Most people cannot afford new cars in the first place.

            Of the new cars that are sold, there is a bimodal distribution. One peak is at the upscale market around $50k with luxury models and SUVs, another is at the lower end around $20-25k range with regular cars. The distribution of prices also has a long tail of very expensive cars that helps to push the “average” car price higher. The statistical average is often used to argue that a Tesla Model 3 is “affordable”, but his already excludes about 80% of the population, and even within the remaining 20% it is not really the truth of the matter. Tesla is really targeting the top 10% of the population with their prices.

          6. >False. Unless by “very recently” you mean a decade ago, 2014, then true.

            You’re right! I was confusing Tesla Model 3 vs. Nissan with all Tesla models. Model 3 overtook Nissan around 2020. You could say the comparison is valid within the same price category.

          7. Not to mention the shitty practices that Tesla pulled with both Model S and Model 3, with people who attempted to order the cheapest version that was advertised as THE car that was promised. They were put on the back of the line and told they’d have to wait… unless they upgraded to the more expensive model!

            If you wanted the $60k model S, you’d have to wait indefinitely. Only a handful were ever sold. If you wanted the $37k Model 3, same deal. Only the “long range” models were getting made and sold, because the company was taking a hard loss on the cheapest option.

          8. Correction: 60 kWh Model S. I don’t remember the price was actually that low.

            Even though it was supposed to be $50k for the 300 mile model as promised.

    2. >Why waste the time if you don’t think it’s even going to make it to orbit?

      Why waste time going to orbit if you can pull in money with just the attempt?

      There’s an analog with indie game developers who make good income selling beta versions. Most of the projects grind to a halt before the game is complete, because the business model is based on sponsoring the development, not the final product.

      1. Once that hits home, you can think of why Musk is kicking up new projects left and right like on a conveyor belt. All his career he’s been doing that, all the way from the PayPal era.

  4. The problem with Starship is that it’s a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. There’s no future in Mars, and we can already service Earth orbits with Falcon-9.

        1. No there isn’t. That’s like saying “there’s quicker turnaround with smaller jets, which is why all the international travel is on 8-passenger Cessna Citations instead of 300-passenger jumbo jets”.

          Starship system is designed to launch multiple times per day. How much quicker do you want? Also there’s such a thing as combined payloads.

          SpaceX alone lifted ~600 metric tons to orbit last year and is on pace to hit 900 t this year without Starship. The total mass of all launches is increasing exponentially and not going to slow anytime soon.

          There is a economic equilibrium peak for any given system. For long-haul jets the A-380 is too big (and too many engines), but the 737 is too small. For mass-to-orbit, everything that’s flown so far is too small, and I doubt the Starship is too big (though I do think it has too many engines right now). Time will tell.

          1. You misunderstand. The problem isn’t about the technical turnaround rate.

            Most launches aren’t that heavy, and lifting at partial load would waste the rocket. Filling the rocket up with many smaller customers takes more time and organization, so the question is whether a company is willing to wait for a seat in the slow bus, or hire the car now.

          2. >Starship system is designed to launch multiple times per day. How much quicker do you want?

            Oh, like the Space Shuttle was designed to launch every two weeks? Let’s see about that when they’re actually doing that.

          3. >SpaceX alone lifted ~600 metric tons to orbit last year

            And how much of that was Starlink? Of course SpaceX can fill their rockets with their own junk as much as they like.

          4. “Oh, like the Space Shuttle was designed to launch every two weeks? Let’s see about that when they’re actually doing that.”

            Granted, it’s not true until it’s true. But SpaceX has a much more realistic chance of reaching the goal than NASA ever did.

            The Shuttle was another Congressional welfare program run by a government bureaucracy. I lived on the Space Coast for a decade during peak Shuttle times and as an engineer, had many engineer friends who worked for NASA or contractors. Their stories of waste and stupidity were hilarious, except it got people killed.

          5. >Their stories of waste and stupidity were hilarious, except it got people killed.

            Now imagine the same thing run by a CEO who insists on cutting 10% below cost on everything, based simply on his imagination of “first principles” over what things should cost, and fires people for airing legitimate concerns; who is also known for his unfair treatment of line workers and anti-union stances.

            What do you think will be different?

          6. “Depends on your point of view, but we can always bet on it.”

            OK, a friendly wager? I’ll even give you a whopping concession and say that SpaceX will launch the same Starship in 2 weeks or less in just five years, by 2028. If we went by Shuttle or SLS precedent, that would be 51 days in 30 years. Pick your favorite escrow service and let’s put 1000 USD on it.

            “What do you think will be different?”

            Fair points. Difference is he doesn’t get air cover from Congress when things go bad. And unlike NASA, SpaceX can go broke if they make enough mistakes.

          7. This got bumped up at the wrong position:

            Frankly, I don’t personally care about the matter worth $1000, especially with the volatile exchange rates these days, but I will promise you that I will put aside $1000 worth today and in 2028 I will invest it in the best performing private space company.

        2. >>Most launches aren’t that heavy, and lifting at partial load would waste the rocket. >>Filling the rocket up with many smaller customers takes more time and organization, so >>the question is whether a company is willing to wait for a seat in the slow bus, or hire >>the car now.

          Why does the rocket have to be full?

          Yes, a full platform would make the most profit, but if starship meets (or even gets close to) its objective of being fully reusable with minimal between-launch maintenance then partial loading may still be economical.

          Its not like the starship is meant to be the only launch option. Some payloads would benefit from just the raw launch capability (large constellations , space station construction, cis-lunar and deep space come to mind). A platform like starship may be economically justified based on those missions alone. Heck, its even possible that some of those missions would be economical with a “full expendable” starship stack or a partially expendable version where only the super-heavy booster is recovered. Imagine the extra throw weight if the upper stage didn’t have to be designed for reentry.

          >>so the question is whether a company is willing to wait for a seat in the slow bus, or hire the car now.

          Or do both. Launch immediately needed assets with whatever platform can get the payload in place at a reasonable cost, then schedule next-generation or spare assets to be delivered by “bus” with a lower cost.

          If launch costs become low enough and/or access schedules become regular maybe you don’t care as much about cramming the best capability into each platform. What happens if you could count on annual or semi-annual replacement launches so the platform doesn’t have to be engineered to last years? The industry wouldn’t look like it does now. I can’t even comprehend what it would look like.

          Way too many unknowns for me to even try to guess. I’m just happy someone is trying to find out.

          1. “Yes, a full platform would make the most profit, but if starship meets (or even gets close to) its objective of being fully reusable with minimal between-launch maintenance then partial loading may still be economical. ”

            This guy gets it! Finally, somebody who obviously passed high-school Econ 101!

            I think the Dude also forgot that Starship/SH is fully reusable, so they would not “waste the rocket”.

            Musk has estimated $10M / launch. That’s certainly optimistic, knowing Musk. But even if it’s 10x that, it’s still less than the cost / kg of the current champion Falcon Heavy.

            Even if it is 20x, $200M / launch (very pessimistic), and using the low payload estimate of 100 mt, it would still be cheaper per kg than any existing launch system, except the Falcons.

          2. Being re-usable is already reducing from the payload fraction. Fuel to return means less payload to orbit. The maximum lift capacity, or the higher orbit, is only achievable if you expend the rocket.

            The biggest problem becomes if you have a small number of customers with low mass payloads, who want to reach a high orbit like GEO. You can’t pair them with other customers who want to go LEO, and you can’t return the rocket because it won’t have enough fuel to get back. Big rocket, small payload… what to do, what to do…

          3. The Starship platform could orbit complete space stations in a single launch. One launch to get to the point that took ISS multiple launches to achieve.

            The upper stage wouldn’t need the heavy fins or heat shield so that’s more mass to put into stuff packed inside the station. The empty tanks could be designed to have hatches installed for interior and exterior access, mounting docking ports and other accessories that would either be launched later or packed inside the station section.

            The interiors of the tanks could have mounting points built in to attach partitions and equipment brought up later. A second one sent up with the initially habitable space packed with nothing but supplies for fitting out the empty tanks and exterior attachments would double the size of the station. The first one would need some empty space in the station section for the crews to move into to get started on unpacking.

            Similar concepts were brought up using Shuttle tanks in the past, doing it with Starship would be even larger. And SpaceX might just do it since they don’t have to ask the government for approval of everything they build.

          4. > The Starship platform could orbit complete space stations in a single launch.

            But what’s the point of space stations ? There’s very little science done, and nearly all of that science could have been done as a much cheaper self-contained experiment in a dedicated launch. The only exception is learning how the human body deals with zero gravity, but we don’t really need that knowledge if we just send smart robots instead.

      1. How does it make financial sense for SpaceX to spend billions of dollars on a rocket program that will end up competing with their own Falcon 9 that’s already dominating the commercial launch market?

        1. So, you don’t understand economics, do you?

          The world is not static. Competition is a thing. Innovate or die. Reduce costs, increase profits. Starship will do that and allow them to stay ahead of the competition. What better time to spend those billions to innovate than when they are swimming in money because they dominate the market?

          Your kind of thinking is why General Motors, Kodak, and Sears no longer exist.

          1. Competition? What competition. There’s nobody remotely close to copying the Falcon 9 design, let alone coming up with something significantly better. Barrier to entry is huge, and SpaceX still has plenty of room to lower prices on Falcon 9 launches if necessary.

          2. “Competition? What competition. ”

            So they should wait until competition is eating their profits and they have less money to do it with before innovating? Sure, that makes sense…

            That’s the kind of destructive short-term thinking that SpaceX has avoided by being privately-held.

          3. All three of those still exist. GM never came close to ceasing to exist, Kodak went through Chapter 11 but successfully came out of it and is still an independent company, and Sears still exists, if barely (17 stores), and is a wholly owned subsidiary.

          4. “All three of those still exist.”


            “General Motors” of today is a brand-new company founded on July 10, 2009.

            The real General Motors founded in 1908 went bankrupt in June 2009 and was liquidated on March 31, 2011. They no longer exist. That was after losing $10 billion in taxpayer bailout money.

            Kodak exists, but is a shadow of it’s former self. Bankruptcy is not success.

            Sears, by your own admission, is effectively dead. They went bankrupt and were sold at auction for pennies on the dollar and have continued to decline since then.

            The point is that they all took Artenz’s short-sighted view of their business and squandered massive leads over their competition. “We’re way ahead! We won’t innovate until the competition is eating our lunch” is how they all failed.

          5. “So they should wait until competition is eating their profits”

            Not necessarily. There’s plenty of other things they could be doing to keep ahead. They could continue to make incremental improvements to the Falcon 9 platform, or manufacture and sell satellite systems. They can also wait until competition is becoming a credible threat. Even with plenty of funds and motivation, any competitor would still require a decade of research to get where SpaceX already is. That gives SpaceX plenty of time to react.

          6. I guess even if they could wait around for years until any real competition arrives for Falcon 9, the real reason for why they’re developing Starship is in the name – SpaceX, literally a privately owned company with the ultimate goal of space exploration.
            And since the entire thing will be economically viable even if it reaches a small fraction of the current design goals then what the heck, why not?

    1. There’s no future in Mars…
      hmmm… I get the point and I think you are right.

      But history has shown us that the people who said the following, were also wrong:
      -there is no practical use for a laser
      -there is no need for mobile phones
      -only 640KB is more than enough for every user
      -nuclear power is the future
      -it is impossible to break through the sound barrier
      -in the future we all have flying cars
      -jetpacks will never be possible, too expensive and too short of a flight time

      The most memorable perhaps is:
      “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” (Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943)

      It is impossible to predict the future. Arthur C Clarke once said: “Trying to predict the future is a discouraging and hazardous occupation, because the prophet invariably falls between two stools: If his predictions sound at all reasonable, you can be quite sure that in twenty or, at most, fifty years, the progress of science and technology has made him seem ridiculously conservative.”

      1. There’s very little future for Mars colonisation, beyond small-scale for mining operations. Mars cannot be terraformed, thus unless we wish to build airtight arcologies (way out of our capacity to do), it simply won’t work at any useful kind of scale.

        That said, Mars is important for scientific research, for experiments involving colonisation, and for developing better and more advanced technologies – look at how the tech developed for the lunar program affected humanity!

      2. Historian’s fallacy at play. There is such a thing as foreseeable future, and it’s usually long enough that it makes no sense to jump up and down for things that only matter long after you’re dead.

        What do you think you could have done with a computer in the 40’s, when such things took up an entire factory hall and required a private power plant to run? Especially when most of the tasks that the computer was supposed to do were already being done with conventional tabulating machines that were far simpler and cheaper.

      3. There are, at least, two false sentences is that list:

        – it’s false that Bill Gates said that 640KBytes is enough (mainly because it was a design decision from IBM; Microsoft had nothing to do about it).
        – the sentence from Thomas Watson is VERY misquoted. He was talking about an specific computer model that IBM was to launch, and only about his own expectations about the result of a business travel to sell it. He said that the only expected to sell about five units of that new computer during that travel, but he sold several more. It was the IBM 701.

        1. On the 640k business, it was entirely correct in an era when the program and its data had to fit on a 720k floppy. Compare, if today you could buy a machine that had a terabyte of RAM.

      4. Don’t forget the negative predictions that were right, such as “This cold fusion stuff, meh, probably bunk.”

        Assuming your pie in the sky will turn out true because of “future” is just as dumb.

    2. They have a multi billion dollar contract with NASA for a lunar lander, but Starship is also meant to deliver what the Space Shuttle was meant for and did achieve, but at a much larger cost than expected (nearly $1B per mission).

  5. They knew the launch pad would be destroyed. That’s why they were building a different one with steel and cooling. SpaceX was in a hurry to make a splash after SLS. They didn’t want to lose lore and momentum so they rushed the launch. Guaranteed there were engineers in SpaceX who outlined the risk because it really wasn’t hard to see this coming. But a decision was made – probably by Musk – to roll the dice in lieu of another delay.

    From an engineering perspective they probably got a lot of valuable data. Even the failures resulting from debris give you some great data on how systems will respond and where key vulnerabilities lie – which will be important to correct before manned spaceflight returns.

    Spraying concrete chunks and dust over a wide area when you’re already under a microscope because of your previous launches/tests – one of which happened without FAA approval – might not have been the smartest idea. The next launch will be excruciatingly painful from a regulatory approval standpoint, and may set things back longer than waiting for a new launch pad to be complete. But then again maybe that gives him someone else to blame. Time will tell if this “screw it, let’s launch anyway” attitude will pay off.

  6. The Senate Launch System is a shameful and disgusting waste of money with a primary purpose of sending taxpayer dollars to certain Congressional districts. It does nothing to advance the science. It’s DECADES behind schedule. It destroys four REUSABLE RS-25 engines with every launch.

    1. yea, starship is a new beast trying to do new things. higher lift capacity and cost cutting is essential for a broader space presence. you can run old beasts to try and relive former glories, and to make a political statement. so if you are going to accuse one program or the other of a lack of purpose, sls is the correct option.

    2. “with a primary purpose of sending taxpayer dollars to certain Congressional districts.”

      You really think that’s the primary purpose?

      You can’t think of some other reason why members of Congress want to keep people who know how to build rockets employed in the US?

      1. You can honestly look at the timetable and exorbitant cost of SLS and say that it’s not?

        It costs two billion dollars per SLS launch, excluding more than 27 billion development costs (50 billion if you include Artemis!). That is absolutely insane. We won’t even talk about intentional destruction of reusable SRB’s and main engines with every launch.

        The people who “know how to build rockets” aren’t working on that flaming monument to bureaucracy. They are working for the contractors that still manufacturer and maintain the missiles you are alluding to. Or for SpaceX or Blue Origin.

        1. “excluding more than 27 billion development”

          Most of the ‘development’ cost for SLS was keepalive money. No one expected them to build anything on those timescales/money.

          “You can honestly look at the timetable and exorbitant cost of SLS and say that it’s not?”

          Yup, because I look at timetables and costs coming from the national security sector, and it’s peanuts compared to that.

          I’m not saying that SLS wasn’t a waste of money if you just look at it from an engineering perspective. But so are *tons* of national security projects.

      2. “You really think that’s the primary purpose?”

        Yes. Like Constellation before it, the primary goal is to ensure the companies and people employed during the STS era continued to be employed. Assembly and launch of a rocket is a side-effect. That’s why Constellation spent a few tens of $bn and produced a single test-launch of a fatally flawed vehicle (Aries I-X, for which an abort would have been a guaranteed fatality due to perforation of the parachutes by burning solid propellant), and then SLS spend another few tens of $bn and finally produced a single test-launch of a non-final system (e.g. Orion lacked ECLSS) a couple of decades and on the order of $100bn later, using an existing engine (RS-25), existing construction facilities (MAF), and existing upper stage (ICPS is DCSS with the numbers filed off), etc. And due to the requirements of part scavenging (e.g. Orion avionics boxes) and slow manufacture, Artemis 2 has a NET of 2024. Congress would be perfectly happy if the SLS programme continues without ever launching another stack.

        In contrast, Starhopper started construction in December 2018 in a literal greenfield site. Less than 5 years later, A full stack vehicle has flown, a vast manufacturing complex exists, a brand new engine has been designed, tested, and flown (with both a new engine cycle and new propellant cycle), and there are several more vehicles already constructed and awaiting or in the process of engine fitout.

  7. SpaceX had two options:

    1) scrap S24, wait two months for water cooled flame diverter to be installed and launch S28 then.

    2) launch S24 without a flame diverter.

    Worst case scenario for option one was an explosion that took out the launch tower, leading to a ~12 month delay. But while it was far from best case scenario, it was far from worst case scenario. They have to repair the ground but not the tower. The ground would have had to have been torn up to install the launch diverter anyways so timeline isn’t substantially different.

    To my eyes, if what SpaceX says is true and they launch S28 before the end of June option 2 was the correct choice. The calamity didn’t affect the timeline for the launch of S28. But it did give them an extra 2 months to examine flight data. Which is massively valuable.

    OTOH, SLS has endured at least 5 years of delays in its current form, more like 10-15 if you trace it back to Constellation.

      1. Mars. The goal was not to need one as the infrastructure doesn’t exist there.

        Also, the water table is very high in Boca chica, so digging down isn’t really an option, and why the launch mount is so high. They did do calculations and thought the pad underneath would be able to survive one launch

        1. Sounds like they shouldn’t built a proper flame diverter then, but just figure out what went wrong with the calculations, and rebuild the original design with a few improvements.

          1. They already started building a flame diverter before the first launch. They thought the special concrete could survive /one/ launch before the diverter was installed, and Musk has admitted they were obviously wrong. The specifics aren’t clear, but doesn’t appear they are going to dig very deeply (and the rocket already did that for them!).

            The water table isn’t really an issue. There are entire cities that are below the water table.

            Raising the OLM at all would require raising the launch tower the same amount, which is possible but gets into significant delays. I don’t think they will go that way.

        2. There is no intent for a Superheavy to ever exist on Mars; it’s a booster necessary to escape Earth’s gravity well. Starship, the upper stage, it expected to be able to take off and return from Mars or the moon on its own, once refueled.

      2. Deleting parts and procedures is a core SpaceX philosophy. Elon Musk has said that if you’re not putting back at least 10% of the parts and procedures you’ve deleted, you’re not trying hard enough to delete things. The best part is no part. Better to try and fail than to not try.

        1. That sounds really great, but if you think about it for ever a second longer than the typical business graduate, you’ll note how astronomically dumb it is.

          Think of a car designed by this principle. Remove 10% of parts or materials that really should not be removed, then sell it to your customers… oh wait, that’s Tesla.

          1. Especially at the prototyping stage, if you optimize too early, you’re simply shooting yourself in the foot because you’re constantly breaking what works and making it more difficult to tell what didn’t.

      3. Depends on what you mean by a diverter. The upgrade they’ve had in process for the last couple of months isn’t exactly a diverter. It will still be a flat pad, but it will be made of water cooled steel rather than Fondag.

        While a diverter has some utility on its own, it is usually coupled to a flame trench. A flame trench for Boca would require a property extension and involve the Army Corps of Engineers and likely takes several years to get approved. The FAA was a speedy hare compared to the Corps of Engineers.

    1. “OTOH, SLS has endured at least 5 years of delays in its current form, more like 10-15 if you trace it back to Constellation.”

      Huh? How does that logic work? You can’t call it a “delay” if it’s never actually funded for construction and cancelled. The fact that they reused portions of Constellation for future projects doesn’t mean that you get to trace the delays from the beginning.

      I mean, c’mon. It wasn’t funded. The review panel in 2009 that basically led to Constellation’s cancellation never said that NASA was pissing money away. They said the budget was too small.

  8. I was thinking the same about the launch pad. The idea that ANY type of concrete or ceramic, without a diverter AND a million gallon + water deluge system, could withstand 33 (near?) supersonic superheated plasma jets seems pure fiction. The aparent paucity of steel reinforcing in the ejecta also apears inadequate to a garage floor in New york (though the may have opted for steel or some other fiber not visible).
    The “giant steel plate” that “didn’t get done in time” idea also seems far fetched to me (not an engineer) unless again it is a giant steel pool with a deluge system…
    Important to note though that AFAIK from what I’ve read the super heavy (booster section) is not intended to land anywhere except earth, just the starship itself. That being said, the ugly nose flaps used for the “belly flop” maneuver won’t do it for landing/takeoff on the lunar surface, and the tiny legs on starship instead of giant versions of falcon booster along with the flaps replaced with sone up-scaled version of the “Super Draco” engines mounted on the nose for landing/takeoff on/from the regolith also seem doomed to the same kind of issues, but there goes a significant part of the lifting capacity (at least until he builds Nivens fusion engine that can hover over the surface and fuse the regolith to glass).
    I look forward to the post mortem (if we get one). I kind of imagine the part about “Explosive bolts?” “I thought you ordered the test stacking stage seperation bolts replaced with the explosive bolts!”
    Still I would give my left arm to work there just to see it up close! Got to be a crazy place…

    1. >> …super heavy (booster section) is not intended to land anywhere except earth, just the starship itself…

      In its current design, even the starship doesn’t have the ability to land itself anymore: it is supposed to be caught by the tower just like the booster segment. Since it will be a long time before they rate the system for humans, I guess they’ve got time to iterate to something that would have a survivable emergency landing mode. Until then, I guess the alternate plan would be to just try to hover over water until the fuel is exhausted, let it drop and hope the water will help keep any leftover fuel vapors from exploding? Either let it drop in shallow water and try to salvage the husk or drop it in deep water and write it off. For an unmanned ship, it would probably be cheaper to drop it in deep water and avoid salvage expenses. There wouldn’t be anything worth reusing and if you drop it in deep enough water you don’t have to worry about your competitors salvaging your stuff for analysis. On the other hand, their landing corridors are centered on the launch sites, so they’re heading for the coast anyway. They might have no choice except to ditch in coastal waters… at least that would be national territorial waters, so there would be some protection before salvage.

      It will be interesting to see how the lunar starship ends up looking. I can’t see the comically small landing legs on the early drawings being right: you’d need an almost perfectly flat landing pad to be confident that the ship’s center of gravity would stay in such a small area. On the other hand, most of the weight of engines, fuel, etc. would be in the bottom half of the vehicle.

      If the falcon 9 legs are anything to go by, they appear to extend about 3x the radius of the body (couldn’t find an actual measurement). The apollo lunar lander is about the same (according to the wikipedia article, the diameter of the lander was 4.22m without landing legs, and 9.4m with the legs deployed). For comparison, the starship body itself has a diameter of 9 meters so the lunar module with its legs extended is almost the same diameter as the body of the lunar starship… not important, but kind of cool.

  9. Say what you will about Musk personally, SpaceX’s engineering and design philosophy is distinct from and demonstrably more efficient than that of NASA’s human-rated spacecraft development paradigm. NASA needs to get things right or very nearly so the first time, because the second time people will be riding it. The Falcon 9 is almost nothing like a conventional rocket – the booster is fully reusable more than a dozen times, it can land autonomously from space on land or at sea, and it needs little to no refurbishment to be back on the pad in a month or less. Not to mention that in it’s current format it has NEVER failed. No other rocket ever designed, let alone launched, comes even slightly close to that. Saying Mars is a dead-end is like saying anyone trying to carve a life out of any wilderness is wasting their time (if you believe that I’ve got a nice cave to sell you). Overall Starship (spacecraft + booster) will become space-worthy and human rated for orders of magnitude less money (hundreds of millions to a few billion vs. 10s of billions) and likely a decade less in time as well. History will likely record single-use rockets as a little more than the Wright brothers’ flyer – quaint, mechanically deficient, barely useable proofs of concept – whereas Super Heavy + Starship will be recognized as the true start of sustainable human spaceflight.

    1. The people who colonize Mars will probably not be us, we are far too comfortable posting on the internet from our comfy homes. But there are others out there who risk life and limb to give their children a better future, those will be the pioneers that conquer this next frontier. And we should be glad to help them any way that we can.

      1. There’s a story about a future Apollo astronaut watching a test launch that promptly explodes. He turns to the engineer next to him and asks “Do you know why that happened?”. Engineer says he’s pretty sure he knows, and they can fix it.

        Astronaut replies “So when do we get to go?”

        Yeah, those guys aren’t us.

    2. > Mars is a dead-end is like saying anyone trying to carve a life out of any wilderness is wasting their time

      The wilderness on Earth that comes closest to Mars are the dry valleys on Antarctica, and I don’t see anybody trying to “carve a life” out there. And conditions on Mars are much much worse. Mars colonization is simply not going to happen.

  10. Frankly, I don’t personally care about the matter worth $1000, especially with the volatile exchange rates these days, but I will promise you that I will put aside $1000 worth today and in 2028 I will invest it in the best performing private space company.

    1. Fair enough, but SpaceX will probably still be private. ;^)

      Truth is by then AGI will probably have usurped all human will and agency.
      “Matrix” or “Manna” if we are lucky.
      “Terminator” or “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” if we aren’t.

    1. It was a fully functional Starship (well, as functional as any of them have been thus far) that was supposed to make a sub-orbital flight most of the way around the globe. Really a shame it never even got to light off its engines.

  11. Elon did a twitter spaces interview and released a lot more information about the launch and its failure.

    The Flight Termination System (FTS) did not function as expected, the rocket did not explode until 40 seconds after the FTS signal was sent.

    This is a big deal — the FTS is a primary component protecting the humans nearby. Starship will be grounded by both SpaceX and the FAA until the FTS is redesigned and recertified. The pad damage will be repaired and functional long before the FTS is recertified.

    This also means that this early test was massively useful. If Starship hadn’t needed the FTS, the FTS wouldn’t have been tested and further unsafe launches would have occurred.

    Now that the FTS is the gating item in the schedule, launching now rather than 2 months when deluge was ready means that they’ve saved 2 months on the schedule, potentially a lot more than 2 months if the launch didn’t need FTS and the problem wasn’t discovered.

    And of course the FTS on the SLS remains untested.

    Von Braun said that they learned more from 1 launch failure than they learned from 10 successful launches.

    1. “And of course the FTS on the SLS remains untested.”

      C’mon, the idea that you have to actually blow up the thing to be confident about it is silly. NASA’s been working and developing FTS systems for decades. They’ve seen plenty of failures with it. Which you can all read about, since NASA’s Lessons Learned database is all public.

      Which is why it’s a big deal for FAA that Starship’s FTS didn’t work as planned – something like that *should* be straightforward at this point.

      1. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if SLS failed to destroy itself as promptly as desired as well – its a rocket on a scale there is very very little comparison to in history. Sure there are lots of parts that make it up that are well known having flown before, but it is still a very very big rocket with a very dynamic internal composition and under very varied external forces through its flight. The termination system might work great in the first 3 seconds and perhaps fine after the first stage burns out and still have a spot in the middle there where the thing doesn’t go pop as satisfactorily as it should for an abort, even though the system did fire.

      2. “C’mon, the idea that you have to actually blow up the thing to be confident about it is silly.”

        Test as you fly, fly as you test.

        “NASA’s been working and developing FTS systems for decades. They’ve seen plenty of failures with it.”

        NASA have also been landing under parachutes since Gemini, so over half a century.
        During the Dragon 2 testing programme, it was discovered that NASA’s parachute models were wildly incorrect and vastly underestimating actual ‘chute riser loadings. It was a shock to discover that previously flown vehicles actually had very little parachute margin at all.
        ‘We’ve been doing it this way for decades’ is not always a badge of honour.

    2. “The Flight Termination System (FTS) did not function as expected, the rocket did not explode until 40 seconds after the FTS signal was sent.

      Not quite. Like Falcon, the vehicle uses AFTS – there is no signal to send, the abort decision is autonomous (based on factors like range corridor, IIP, etc).
      The answer from Musk was also rather ambiguous as to whether the termination charges fired and it took 40s for the vehicle to break up, or whether the vehicle did not fire the charges for 40s after it should have, or some other scenario (e.g. did not fire on the start of the spin which should have been an abort criteria, but immediately did on another criteria e.g. corridor violation or structural failure).

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